Hey everyone, and welcome to my presentation on how to scale guest posting to major media publications. The goal of this presentation is to give you the tools you need to get articles published on major media publications, like Forbes, Inc, TechCrunch, Entrepreneur.com, and others, which is awesome for branding, awareness, website traffic, and SEO.
But first, a bit about me. My name is Jayson DeMers, and I’m the founder & CEO of a Seattle-based content marketing agency called AudienceBloom. I’m also a regular contributor or have contributed to a bunch of various major media publications, including Forbes, Entrepreneur, The Huffington Post, Inc, Time Magazine, Fortune, MSN.com, Yahoo.com, The Wall Street Journal, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch, and the list goes on.
My company, AudienceBloom, specializes in link building. We help our clients get links and brand mentions from major media publications, and we do this by working with our clients to select publishers they want to appear in, then helping them reach out to those publications and pitch them with content the publication would want to publish.
If you’re here because you want help getting links for your website from major media publications, I’m about to show you the exact process that worked for me to become a contributor at all the publications I’ve written for. If by the end you decide you still want help, check out our contact form at AudienceBloom.com, or shoot me an email, and I’ll be happy to help.
I wish getting published on major media publications was as easy as just emailing an article to an editor and seeing it get published. Unfortunately, it’s not.
Getting published on major media publications requires carefully executed strategy, which can be divided into three phases. Phase I is to establish your reputation, phase II is to get your foot in the door, and phase III is to maintain and grow the relationship.
Phase 3 actually covers what happens after your first post is published, but it’s critical if you want to publish more than just once on a publication, and become a regular contributor, which has awesome benefits.
As you might imagine, major media publications have no problem finding people who want to become contributors on their websites. And because they have no shortage of eager contributors, they can afford to be picky about who they work with and who they don’t. They want people with a proven reputation or specific expertise that will add value for their readership, and that means you need to start by establishing a reputation for yourself. What makes you qualified to speak or write on a given subject?
If you can’t answer that question right now, and you want to be able to get published on major media publications, it’s time to start working toward being able to answer it.
There are 4 steps for doing so, and we’ll go over each of them. They are defining your niche, establishing standout pieces on your own blog, building strategic relationships, and building a social following.
Your first step may seem a bit obvious, but you’ve gotta start by defining your niche. For me, I started with SEO and have since branched out to just about all other aspects of online marketing, and even broader entrepreneurial topics. But you’ve gotta start small when you’re just starting out, and not try to convince an editor that you’re an expert on everything. Being an expert on one topic is much more believable, and will be a more compelling reason for the editor to want to give you a try.
Get as specific as you can; for example, instead of saying you’re an expert at social media marketing, say you’re an expert Instagram marketer.
Next, think about your specific time period. For example, will you cover the history of your niche? Or will you cover current events, or perhaps even make predictions about the future of it?
Once you’ve defined your niche, the next step is to establish some standout published pieces which you can use as your portfolio. Getting an editor to respond to an email is already a major accomplishment, so you don’t want to fall flat when they ask you for published samples of your writing and you can’t truly impress them. Editors will almost certainly ask you for examples of your previously published work, so you need to prepare for this by establishing an impressive portfolio.
This portfolio should eventually include works on and off your website, but for now you can start with your own blog or website, since you can control everything on it, and can make sure it looks polished.
When you send links to your previously published works, generally sending 3 links is enough, but you want there to be more than only those 3, so that when the editor visits those articles, they’ll see there are more, which will make you look more experienced. So, aim for at least 5 to 10 standout pieces on your blog, and down the road you can supplement those with some other published works on small or medium external publications.
So how can you know if an article is worthy of being considered stand-out? Odds are, you already know if it is or isn’t. Ask yourself this question: If your best friend was looking for advice on the topic you wrote about, would you feel 100% confident referring them to your article? If not, it’s probably not stand-out.
Stand-out pieces are generally at least 1500 words, and include embedded supporting media such as images, videos, or infographics.
If those articles have any comments on them, be sure you’ve replied to all of them thoughtfully and politely; this is a really good sign to editors that you will engage their audience, which drives more visits and pageviews for them.
Finally, be sure that the articles you send to the editor show impressive performance metrics, such as views or social shares.
Here’s one article from my company blog at AudienceBloom.com that got over 2,000 shares across various social networks. This would be a great article to include in my portfolio because it has performed so well.
I use a plugin for WordPress called Social Warfare to display these social share counts. It’s not free, but it’s cheap – only $29 per year for one website, and I think it’s well worth it. It’s actually #26 on my list of the top 30 marketing tools I couldn’t live without, which if you’re interested in checking out, you can find at https://bit.ly/audiencebloomtools.
Of course, getting a ton of shares on your content isn’t easy, but I’ve written an entire guide on exactly the process I use to do it. It includes free tactics and some paid ones, and has an infographic at the end that breaks down the whole process into a checklist you can use for every piece of content you publish.
You can check it out on the AudienceBloom blog by visiting https://bit.ly/contentunleashed. After you’ve published your articles, you’ll want to use the steps I outline in the guide to get a bunch of shares and views on them.
If you haven’t already caught on, I obviously practice what I preach about promoting my content, and I highly recommend you do the same.
Once you’ve defined your niche and established some standout pieces on your blog, you’re ready to start building strategic relationships.
The goals of this are to grow your reputation by expanding horizontally (because more appearance across various publishers equals a bigger reputation), to establish a credible publishing history (because many posts over time is better than one post recently), and to become familiar with different editorial processes so you’re prepared to deal with the big guns at national media publications.
Obviously, you can’t just jump from having no reputation to a big one; you have to start from the bottom and work your way up, one step at a time. For instance, looking at this drawing, starting at the bottom step could mean reaching out to your friend who has a blog or a Youtube channel you could be a guest on.
Moving up to the next step, you might leverage that first guest appearance to pitch an acquaintance you’ve met at a networking event or perhaps a 1st degree connection on LinkedIn who’s an editor at a small or medium-sized publication. You could subsequently leverage those appearances to take the next step up and pitch a 2nd-degree connection on LinkedIn who’s an editor at an even larger publication, and so on, gradually working your way up to national media publications.
Another good option is to find publishers that publicly solicit guest posts, and pitch them. I Googled “publishers that allow guest blogs” and took a screenshot of the results, which you can see here. 4 of the top 5 results were lists of blogs that accept guest posts, so finding these publishers isn’t hard to do. This is an excellent way to get your name published at a variety of publishers in your niche, which is extremely helpful for establishing your credibility, authority, and expertise; the crucial elements of being able to publish at big, national media publications.
Your social media numbers have a huge impact on your likelihood of getting consideration from editors at major media publications. Publishers want authors who can promote their own work and drive pageviews to their website, so if you aren’t on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, it’s time to get active on them.
Post at least once a day to each one, and multiple times a day for Twitter.
Be sure to promote your published works through your social media accounts, as this shows editors that you will essentially give them free social media promotion if they work with you – that incentive grows as your audience grows, so work on getting more followers, especially on Twitter.
You can get more followers by following other people, since they’ll often follow you back, and simply engaging other people on these social media platforms so they have a reason to follow you and stay following you.
Be active and don’t treat your social accounts as a one-way communication channel; engage with people in conversations.
And of course you can also use paid ads to get more followers if you’ve got a budget.
Of course, getting more followers on social media is much more complicated than that, so I’ve written a huge article called “101 Ways to Get More Social Media Followers” which you can find on my blog if you want more ideas. You can find it at https://bit.ly/audiencebloomfollowers.
After completing all the steps in phase 1, you’re ready to move onto phase 2: Getting your foot in the door with major publications. Your first guest post with a major media publication will be the hardest one to get, but after you get it, it will start a snowball effect that will make the rest easier. In fact, with every new publication you land, every new subsequent one will get easier than the previous one.
The steps for phase 2 include identifying editors at target publications, reaching out, and then accommodating everything.
Since this discussion is focused on major media publications, I’m going to skip covering how to find publications in your niche, since there aren’t a ton of major, national media publications, and if they fit that category then you probably already know about them.
So, assuming you already have a list of publishers you want to target, it’s time to figure out who to contact at those publications to become a contributor.
Start by browsing the publisher’s website to see if they offer a way to pitch an article or make a contribution. If they don’t have any information on how to do so, turn to Twitter or LinkedIn and try to find out who the editors are. From there, you can use a tool to help you find each editor’s email address, which you’ll use to introduce yourself and get your foot in the door.
Here’s a nice trick that will help you speed up the process of checking to see if a publisher accepts guest posts. You can use the Google “OR” operator along with the “site:” operator in your search query to see if a specific domain has a page about guest posts or on how to become a contributor.
I’ve got a screenshot of an example search query here so you can see how it’s done. I tried this search query for VentureBeat.com and the first result in Google was Venturebeat.com’s guest submissions page. Clicking that link takes you to a page that provides instructions on how to get in touch with editors at VentureBeat, so that’d be a promising next step to take.
That trick won’t always work, though. I tested it on HuffingtonPost.com and didn’t get any promising hits. That second result that says “guest post” turned out to just be a tag directory, so it’s useless for our purposes.
However, the third result does bring up the contact page for The Huffington Post, which includes a subsection that has instructions on how to contact the editors to pitch them a post. That’s a promising lead to try!
To be honest, though, in my experience it’s really unlikely you’re going to receive a reply if you reach out through a generic contact form. Your best bet is to get in touch directly with an editor at the publication. LinkedIn is my go-to tool for finding editors at various publications. A simple search will often turn up the right person to contact, or at least someone who can point you in the right direction.
As you can see from the screenshot here, I did a simple search for “venturebeat.com editor” and Harrison Weber was the top result.
I clicked on his name to see his profile, and boom, here’s his email address, listed right there at the top.
I hope Harrison doesn’t mind that I haven’t censored his email address here, but I figure that since he has it displayed publicly on his LinkedIn page, he won’t mind. Just do me a favor and don’t reach out to him for at least a few months so he doesn’t hate me if he suddenly gets a hundred emails because of me.
I have to admit that it’s pretty unusual for editors to make their email addresses so easy to find; I usually have to do some digging to find it. If Harrison’s email address wasn’t listed here, the next thing I would do is try to find him on Twitter. A quick Google search led me to his Twitter profile, which you can see on the right side of the screen here, which includes a link to his personal website. I visited his personal website and his email address is also listed at the bottom of it.
So if I wanted to reach out and make a pitch to Harrison, I know how to contact him!
It’s a good idea to repeat this process and try to gather as many editor names and email addresses as you can find at a particular publication, because if one doesn’t respond to you, you can always try another. Just don’t email them all at once – that’s a surefire way to get on their radar as an annoyance rather than an asset.
Once you’ve got a list of editors and publications you want to reach out to about contributing, it’s time to actually reach out to them. Start with just one publisher at a time, rather than sending emails to all the editors, because with every publisher you get published on, that’ll increase your success rate on each subsequent publication.
I’ve found email gets a far better response rate than LinkedIn messages, so go with email as your outreach method.
The process is pretty straightforward, and I’ve got it listed here. You’re going to start by sending your initial outreach email. Assuming you don’t get a response from the editor (which is safe to assume) after 4 days, follow up with another email. Keep persisting with two more follow-ups, a week apart. You can use a browser plugin called Boomerang for Gmail to automatically remind you if you haven’t received a response from someone after a certain number of days, which makes sure you’re able to stay persistent with your follow-ups. Boomerang is actually my #1 favorite marketing tool, so definitely check it out. Persistence really is key with outreach, because it separates you from the hundreds of other people who are reaching out but never bothering to follow up.
If, after 3 follow-ups, you still haven’t received a response, it’s safe to assume you aren’t going to get a response from that editor. Look at your list of editors and start the process over again with a new editor at that publication until you either get a response from someone, or exhaust all your options at that publisher.
If you exhaust all your options at a particular publisher, you can either move on to another publication and repeat these steps, or you can try to schmooze with the editors you emailed on Twitter or LinkedIn so they recognize your name in their inbox, which will hopefully lead to them replying to you.
The email you send to the editor is the most critical component to getting a reply from them. Everything from your subject line to your spelling, grammar, and formatting are going to be scrutinized by the editor, and play an enormous role in whether the editor will reply to you positively (or even at all).
In the next slide I’ll show you an example template for a cold outreach email, but for now I’ll cover the main elements of importance.
The subject line should be unique or simple. The body of your email should start by addressing your contact by their first name, not something generic. Then, start by introducing yourself briefly, in no more than one sentence.
Follow that by explaining why you’re reaching out. Be humble and honest, and don’t try to put a sales spin on anything you say; you’re reaching out because you would like to contribute an article to the site, or perhaps become an occasional contributor to the site.
Follow that by including some links to your standout pieces, and make sure they are highly relevant to the publication you’re reaching out to.
End your email with a thank you for their time and consideration.
Here’s an example of an email I could send to Harrison. Since I’m already a columnist at some big-name publications, I have the benefit of including that in my first sentence. Obviously, you’ll need to replace those publishers with wherever you’ve managed to get published during phase 1.
I like to use the subject line “Introducing myself” because it’s simple and honest, but you can try other subject lines and see how they work for you. I haven’t really tested subject lines to see which ones have better open rates for these purposes, so feel free to test and see what works.
I’ll read the email so we can all read along:
I’ve found that it’s unlikely you’ll receive a response after your first outreach attempt, but you can increase the odds of getting a response by being persistent with your follow-ups. Unfortunately, it’s still unlikely you’re going to get a response (and even less likely you’ll get a positive one), even after all your follow-ups.
But when you do get a positive response, it’s kind of like the feeling you get when you finally feel a bite, to use a fishing metaphor, and sealing the deal feels a lot like reeling in a big catch.
A positive reply from an editor will generally be a request for pitches, or ideas, as a starting point. This is the part where you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the publisher’s website, the types of articles they typically publish, and the ones that typically perform the best.
A tool like Buzzsumo is a great way to find out what articles have performed well for that publisher in the past. This is a screenshot that shows the results in Buzzsumo for when I searched for “Inc.com”. The results show articles published on the site, ranked in order of how many shares they received across Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+, combined. Buzzsumo, by the way, is #5 on my list of must-have marketing tools, which again, you can find at bit.ly/audiencebloomtools.
I can use these search results to propose some article titles and short descriptions for each article idea to the editor.
After you send in your pitches, the editor will either accept one or more of the pitches, or send you some revisions on your pitches based on what they want or need. They may even ask for something unrelated to the specific niche you started with, depending on how badly they need something written on a particular topic. This most often happens when there’s some hot item in the news that they want covered from every angle possible to maximize pageviews.
At this point, all you need to do is accommodate everything they ask for, no matter how ridiculous it seems. This is your chance to get your foot in the door; and you’ll have more flexibility and authority once you build a reputation and establish trust with the editor.
After your first pitch is approved, write the full article, ensuring it complies with any and all guidelines they provided to you, then send it to your editor. There are three common ways editors prefer to receive articles and make revisions on them:
The first is via direct submission, which is where they give you an author login to the WordPress backend, where you can submit your article draft directly for review. Editors will make changes as they see fit before publishing the article.
The second is through editorial review, which is where you’ll email in a draft of your work, usually as a Word document, then receive feedback from the editor on any edits or revisions they need, which you can incorporate into your second draft.
The third is through collaboration, which is where you’ll use Google Docs or a similar collaboration software.
Of course, even after multiple rounds of editing, it’s still possible to have your article outright rejected. Outright rejection usually only occurs after a first draft is submitted and before the revision process has begun, but I’ve had it happen after multiple rounds of revisions, which is disheartening, but still something to be prepared for.
Once you make it through the revision process, the editor will usually ask you for a headshot and a short author bio. Make sure you have a professional-looking headshot ready to send in, and craft your bio.
You can see my standard bio and headshot here.
A bio typically consists of a sentence about who you are and what you do, and I also recommend including social media links so your readers can follow you.
After sending in your headshot and bio, it’s usually just a matter of time until the post is published.
Once you get your first post published, you’re gonna to feel like a total bad-ass. Not only will you get bragging rights about being published in a major media publication, you can leverage that fact in your other marketing efforts.
For instance, if you look at my company homepage at audiencebloom.com, we’ve got a scrolling banner that shows all the major media publications we’ve appeared in. It’s a fantastic way to prove your legitimacy and credibility, which can be a huge boon for your site-wide conversion rates.
Including these logos on your contact page can also help improve conversion rates for new leads reaching out to you.
Also, don’t forget to share and promote your newly published article on your social media accounts and any other appropriate channels you can think of.
Content without any readers is lonely content. Don’t let your content be lonely.
I mentioned this earlier, but for a whole bunch of ideas on how to promote your content, you can see my full guide at bit.ly/contentunleashed.
Phase 3 is all about building on your new relationship with the editor or publication. Getting published once is great, but becoming a regular contributor or columnist at a major publication is even better. The steps for phase 3 include discovering or creating a rhythm, learning from the past, accepting direction, promoting your best work, and growing your audience.
After your first post is published, reach out to the editor to establish a few things.
First, your “beat,” or niche within this publisher.
Second, how to submit ideas in the future. For example, you can ask if the editor prefers to receive pitches for approval first, or if they’re cool with letting you submit full articles for consideration.
Third, find out how often you should pitch new ideas or submit new articles. Some publishers will allow you to send in as many as you like, and others, such as Inc or Forbes, require a certain minimum amount per month.
Be sure to set Boomerang reminders whenever you send an email so nothing falls through the cracks. This is super important, because it’s very common for editors to just not respond to your emails until after a few follow-ups. I don’t know why this is, and it’s frustrating, but follow-up reminders will save your sanity here.
Once you have at least 10 articles published with a certain publisher, you can start analyzing trends. Take a look at your articles and find out what topics get the most views, likes, shares, and comments.
What post features stand out in your successful content, such as images, length, structure, or takeaways?
How does your audience respond? You can look at comments on your posts to get a feel for this.
Buzzsumo is a helpful tool for quickly finding out which posts performed the best in terms of social shares. It’s especially helpful if you want to compare posts across different publishers.
You can use the “author:” search operator to filter posts only by a specific author, such as yourself, and rank them in order of social shares they received.
This screenshot here shows my most popular posts over the last year.
It looks like businessinsider.com and entrepreneur.com are working pretty well for me; all of my top 5 articles in terms of shares come from those 2 publishers. Three of these posts are directed toward millennials, with titles that tell you what to do in your 20s or 30s, so that tells me that much of my audience are probably millennials.
You and your editor will be a tag-team. Your editor will love you more if your articles perform well, because it’ll make your editor look good. Their job is probably to maximize pageviews, so do what you can to help them achieve their goals, and they’ll help you achieve yours.
Always accept any direction they give you, and don’t hesitate to ask what you could be doing better or how to improve.
If you can build relationships with other editors or staff members at the publication, that’ll help solidify your standing as a valuable contributor in the eyes of not just one editor, but the whole team.
If you have a piece you’re especially proud of, promote it. This’ll earn you more visibility, and will also prove to your publisher that you’re worth keeping around.
Some ideas for promotion include immediately updating your social networks with every new post, interlinking your posts, which means linking to old posts from newer ones to boost their search rankings and direct readers to them in order to increase their pageviews, and even paid ads to drive short-term traffic to the posts.
Whenever you publish a new article, there’s a few things you need to be sure to do.
Fist, announce it to your social media followers.
Next, watch for new comments so you can reply to them. Reader engagement through comments is a great way to pick up new followers and build brand loyalty.
On an ongoing basis, keep building up your followers in each of your social channels so you can get new eyeballs on your content, and periodically ask your followers what content they’d like to see, then give it to them.
As an example of this, in early 2016 I created a one-question survey in Typeform that asked my email newsletter audience what topics they wanted me to cover in-depth so they could learn more about. 540 people responded, and the results of that survey question are shown here.
Content marketing, social media marketing, and brand building were the top 3 topics voted on, so I created guides for each of those on the AudienceBloom blog. I also used that information to inform the content direction I took with the other various publishers I work with.
The survey was a fantastic way for me to get a snapshot of what my audience wanted or needed from me in terms of content.
After you’ve developed a relationship as a consistent contributor with your first major media publication, it’s time to set sail, expand your horizons so to speak, and look for new publishers to repeat the process with.
With experience at one major media publication under your belt, you’ll see that your success rate increases with the next, and it’s a snowball effect; the more publications you get onboard with, the easier getting onboard with the next will be.
The only problem at that point will be managing all your relationships, ensuring you have enough time to write all that content while maintaining a high level of quality, and promoting the content. You can outsource certain pieces of this process, such as by hiring a personal editor to proof-read your work, and a social media manager to promote your work after it’s been published.
Find your perfect balance with all the other responsibilities you have in your business, and you’ll have it made. I can tell you that this is the exact process I used to become a contributor at all the places I write for, and it’s been the single-biggest factor in growing my business. It’s content marketing at its finest, and while it takes consistency, persistence and dedication, it’s well worth it in the end.
So to wrap up, here are the key takeaways.
In phase 1, you’ll need to start by defining your niche, creating awesome portfolio pieces, building strategic relationships, then building your social media audience.
In phase 2, you’ll start by identifying editors at target publications, perfecting your email outreach template, reaching out, and then accommodating all the editor’s requests until you get published.
In phase 3, you’ll work to establish a posting rhythm, learn what works and what doesn’t from your past pieces, accept the editor’s direction, promote your best work, and nurture and grow your audience over time.
The three tools we’ve covered in this presentation include Social Warfare, which is the plugin for WordPress that displays social media share counts on your posts, Boomerang for Gmail, which is a plugin for Gmail that automatically reminds you when an email recipient hasn’t responded to your email after a certain number of days, and Buzzsumo, which is a web-based tool that helps you figure out what content is the most popular on a particular publication or by a particular author.
So that concludes this presentation. Thanks very much for listening, and I’ll now open the floor to Q&A.
When you search for information, you enter specific words and phrases into a search bar. Google (or a similar search engine) then fetches results based in part on site authority, but mostly based on the relevance to that given query.
If you want to be successful in SEO, you need to understand what people are searching for, how often they’re searching for it, and why they’re searching for it.
So how can you find this information? It all starts with keyword research, the process of uncovering keyword opportunities for your brand to rank higher in search engines.
Introduction to Keyword Research
Let’s start by covering the basics of keyword research. The concept, as usual in the online marketing world, is simple, but the execution is more complex; essentially, you’ll be discovering what types of queries online users are using in search, then using that information to optimize your pages in a way that makes them more likely to rank for those queries. But it’s not as simple as you might think, as keywords no longer work the way they used to.
The Old Model of Keyword Research
The old model of keyword research was quite simple, as Google’s search algorithm was relatively simple. It functioned on a one-to-one basis, separating a user’s query into its base components and finding where those components were featured most throughout the web.
For example, let’s say you searched for the phrase “burger restaurant Denver.” Google would separate this query into keywords and keyword phrases, then look for pages throughout the web that featured these specific words and phrases. It wasn’t quite as simple as finding out which website used these words the most, because authority was also taken into some consideration, but it was close to that.
Google might have taken a look at a page that features the phrase “burger restaurant” multiple times, as well as “Denver” a few times, and might have prioritized a site that featured the exact phrase “burger restaurant Denver,” in the text of the page, even though that phrase never naturally comes up in actual human conversation. Google did rely on synonyms, but again, only in a one-to-one relationship.
Because of how Google worked, the old model of keyword research was based on finding these common keyword phrases, even if they were semantically nonsensical, and sprinkling them throughout a site. For example, you might create a page on your site titled “Burger Restaurant Denver” specifically to rank for these types of queries, along with variations of that phrase, like “best burger joint Denver” or “good burgers Denver.”
The Hummingbird Update and Golden Age of Content
Google fought back against such unnatural-looking attempts at ranking higher in search engines for these types of search queries with various algorithm updates, including the monumental content-focused Panda update in 2011, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the fundamental keyword basis of Google search was overhauled with the Hummingbird update.
Hummingbird introduced the concept of “semantic search,” which looks at the context of a user’s search query rather than its exact keyword composition. Hummingbird sees a query like “burger restaurant Denver,” and is able to infer that a user is looking for a burger restaurant in Denver, Colorado. It then scours the Internet for websites of actual burger restaurants in Denver that have a high enough authority to rank for the query.
That authority is calculated based on literally hundreds of factors, but in this case one of the highest factors for a local restaurant would likely be its reviews and ratings on review sites like Yelp.
Notice how, in the screenshot above, that none of the results have the keyword “burger restaurant denver” anywhere in them.
This difference may seem small, but it’s made the entire concept of keyword density –once an essential component of keyword optimization – practically obsolete. You don’t necessarily have to include the phrase “burger restaurant Denver” in your website at all to rank for that query, as long as Google understands that you’re a burger restaurant in its semantic deciphering of your content.
This, along with Panda’s (another Google algorithm) favoritism for high-quality content, has helped to spawn our modern “golden age” of content.
Well-written, quality, valuable on-site content gives you more opportunities to establish relevance for topics related to your brand, and cover a wide range of different potential searches.
Okay, So Are Keywords Still Relevant?
After reading this, you might think that keywords are no longer relevant. After all, Google no longer takes them into consideration when trying to match a query to a selection of pages. However, this isn’t quite true; keywords are still important for consideration, just in a different way than they used to be.
Google still relies on keywords to help it understand the subject matter of various pages and websites. As a simple example, it might see the words “burger” and “restaurant” several times on a page and understand that this is probably a website for a burger restaurant.
But this is even more important in more complex cases, such as when a user searches for something conversationally, like “what’s the difference between general relativity and Newtonian gravity?” Google can’t easily reduce this query to a single concept, but it can scout for articles that seem to use the phrases “general relativity” and “Newtonian gravity” in a comparative context, and will probably even favor a site that happens to use the exact extended phrase entered.
Because of this, it’s still important to pay attention to your phrasing, but the majority of your keyword “matches” will arise naturally as long-tail phrases—as long as you have a solid content strategy. This has led to a differentiation between bona fide “keyword research” and “topic research” for content—two of the main sections of this article—but I’ll dig into those in a bit.
Benefits of Keyword Research
With an understanding of the function of keywords in a modern SEO campaign, let’s take a look at some of the tangible benefits you can get by conducting keyword research:
Search volume analysis. First, you’ll gain insights into what keywords are more popular than others. This can help you find more popular topics to optimize for, which will eventually lead you to higher traffic and a higher ROI. For example, take a look at the difference in search volume (the number of times a user has searched for a given query) between “how to bake a cake” and “how to build a particle accelerator.” The clear winner is “how to bake a cake” (and let’s be thankful for that), making it far more favorable to optimize for.
Competitive research. Competitive research can help you determine which keywords and phrases your direct competitors are already ranking for. From there, you can decide which ones are worth fighting for and which ones are worth leaving. For the most part, you’ll want to shoot for target keywords that none of your competitors are currently ranking for, as they’ll be easier to establish rankings for, but they aren’t always easy to find. Competitive research can also help you understand the general course of your opponents’ SEO strategies, so you can adjust your own to more appropriately combat them.
Content ideas and SEO direction. Next, keyword research will give you ideas for your content marketing campaign, and help you set the direction for your SEO campaign. With a solid “group” of target keywords in mind, you’ll be able to establish the meta data and body copy for the main pages of your site, and come up with an editorial calendar full of topics that are actually relevant to your audience. Keyword research not only helps you pinpoint competitive opportunities and popular topics, but also helps you expand your conceptions through a brainstorming process. You’ll see how this works in greater detail later.
Market research. Doing keyword research also helps you understand your key demographics better, giving you information you can use in other areas of your business, including other areas of your marketing campaign. For example, you may find that search patterns for a specific product tend to escalate in winter, giving you a critical marketing opportunity to push that product more during winter months. You may also be able to learn more about the average buying cycle, including what types of questions consumers tend to ask as they get closer and closer to making a final decision.
Ranking measurement. Finally, doing keyword research in advance gives you a concrete way to measure the progress of your SEO campaign. Personally, I’m a fan of using factors like overall organic traffic and conversion rates to measure SEO campaign progress, but being able to definitively chart your rankings for a handful of target keywords also lends accuracy and thoroughness to your campaign. For example, it’s helpful to know that AudienceBloom.com ranks #1 for the keyword phrase “link building seattle.” We started off completely unranked, and could watch as we gradually made our way to the top, with that growth being a signal that our overall SEO strategy was succeeding. In theory, your efforts will raise your rankings for thousands of potential queries, including ones you’ve never thought of, but pinpointing specific phrases gives you a window into this overall growth.
How to Use Keyword Research
It’s important to know how you’ll be using keywords if you want to choose them appropriately.
The dangers of keyword stuffing. First, you need to understand the inherent dangers of keyword stuffing. It’s tempting to include your target keywords as frequently as possible throughout your site, but remember—Google doesn’t work based on one-to-one correlations anymore. Increasing your frequency of placed keywords isn’t going to help your rankings; in fact, it might earn you a Google penalty. Focus on including your keywords naturally, wherever you include them, and try to utilize synonyms. If you’re ever in doubt, read a selection out loud and see if it sounds funny to you—if it does, you can consider the usage of the keyword “unnatural.”
Title tags and meta descriptions. Your page titles and descriptions are some of the most important areas to include keywords for your campaign. These are considered highly important elements by Google, mostly because they’re the first things a search user sees when scrolling through the results. Including a head keyword prominently, early on in your titles and descriptions, helps Google categorize your site—just make sure that your keywords are relevant for the content of your pages. Take AudienceBloom’s title and descriptions as examples; “link building” and “content marketing agency” are two of the keywords we’re targeting, and both are appropriate to our brand. We don’t stuff in any more keywords than we need to.
Dedicated pages. Because page titles are so powerful when it comes to evaluating relevance, and because each page is indexed separately in Google, it’s sometimes a good idea to create dedicated pages for each of your head keywords. For example, if one of your target keywords is “emergency plumbing repair,” you may wish to create a new page of your site specifically called “Emergency Plumbing Repair” in your main navigation. However, you’ll want to be careful here. If your page appears unnatural, or if its body copy is spammed with keywords, you could earn a ranking penalty rather than a boost.
Header tags and body content. Aside from the titles and descriptions, you’ll want to include keywords throughout the body of your pages. There used to be a rule that keywords should make up about 2 to 3 percent of the total volume of words on a given page (this was referred to as “keyword density,” but forget about that. Just include keywords occasionally where they naturally fit in, especially long-tail keywords, and especially in your header tags (h1, h2, etc.).
Ongoing content. Your ongoing content is your best place for the ongoing support of your target keyword phrases. If you’re developing multiple new posts for your blog a week, you’ll have multiple opportunities to optimize for new keywords, new pages with new title tag and meta description opportunities, and of course, plenty of body copy where you can include your keywords at a natural pace. I’ll dig deeper into the content side of things when we cover topic research later on.
Keyword Research vs Topic Research
Some SEOs have declared topic research as the “new” keyword research, while others have decried keyword research as an SEO strategy in general. I believe that keyword research and topic research for content are two distinct, yet highly related strategies that are both necessary if you want to be successful in SEO.
I’ll delve into each of these topics individually, breaking down the research and execution process step by step.
Keyword Research for SEO
Let’s take a look at “standard” keyword research for SEO. The goals here are to find a selection of target keywords you can use to optimize the various pages of your site for specific user queries, then use your rankings for those keywords as a relative gauge of success.
For the majority of this article, I’ll be calling upon Moz’s Keyword Explorer, one of the best all-around tools for keyword research. At the end of this article, I’ll be listing it along with other tools mentioned in this guide as a reference index for your future use. If you’re interested in fuller descriptions of these tools as we go along, be sure to reference it. Before we jump into the step-by-step guide, you need to understand some keyword research lingo: head, and long-tail keywords.
Head Keywords and Long-Tail Keywords
You’ll often hear about “long-tail” keywords in contrast with “head” keywords. Essentially, long-tail keywords are extended phrase search queries, such as “what is the best roofing company in Wyoming?” Compare that to a traditional “head” keyword or keyword phrase like “roofing company” or “roofing company Wyoming.” There’s no strict line to draw here, though generally, if a query is in sentence format, it can be considered as a long-tail phrase.
Long-tail keywords are advantageous because they tend to have a much lower competition rating than head keywords; the catch is they also have much lower search volume. It’s great to use long-tail keywords to rank quickly for niche positions, but if you’re looking for some heavy-hitting rankings to build over the long-term, head keywords are better.
Typically, SEOs use head keywords for title tags of the most prominent pages of their site, like Home, About, and Contact pages (as well as body copy), while long-tail keywords are reserved for blog article titles.
Because each type of keyword has advantages over the other, I highly recommend pursuing both over the course of your campaign, balancing the two based on your current goals.
Next, let’s dive into the step-by-step breakdown of exactly how to conduct keyword research for SEO.
Step 1. Determine your goals and budget
Generally, if you’re looking for fast results, you’ll want to choose long-tail keywords with a low competition rating; these are going to be your fastest road to rankings, but keep in mind high rankings here won’t always send much traffic your way; it depends on search volume for each keyword.
Head keywords and higher-competition keywords are better for long-term results, assuming you’re also picking higher-relevance keywords with a high search volume. A bigger marketing budget would allow you to theoretically invest more effort in either side of the equation, allowing you to cover more ground and rank faster for your target terms.
For example, take a look at the major difference even a single variant can have on a target keyword, between “content marketing” and “content marketing for law firms”, dropping the competition score from 91 to 42, and the search volume to “no data” (though Google’s Keyword Planner suggests it to be between 10-100):
It’s hard to estimate exactly how much time or money you’ll need to rank for a given keyword, but these metrics should help you understand your biggest opportunities, and estimate the relative degree of effort you’ll need to invest in each to see results. In turn, this should guide the development of your keyword research.
Step 2. Brainstorm your “seed” keywords
You’ll start your keyword research by selecting what I call “seed” keywords. Seed keywords are those that you either already know your target audience is using to search for your services, or that you would use if you were a member of your target audience.
For example, since AudienceBloom is a content marketing agency, I can easily guess that my target audience might search for “content marketing agency,” or perhaps one or more of the following variations of that keyword:
Content marketing services
Content marketing company
Content marketing firm
Content marketing provider
Of course, AudienceBloom offers more than just “content marketing services.” We also offer link building services, social media marketing services, and blog writing services.
If your company offers multiple types of products or services, then you’ll need to create a separate topical relevance group and brainstorm seed keywords for each of them. For example, here are the seed keywords I would use for the other services AudienceBloom provides:
Link building services
Link building service
Link building company
Link building agency
Link building provider
Social media marketing services:
Social media marketing services
Social media services
Social media service
Social media management services
Social media marketing management
Blog writing services:
Blog writing services
Blog creation services
Blog post services
Blog post writing service
It took me a couple minutes to come up with the keywords above, and they were all off the top of my head. Write down these seed keywords, as we’ll conduct specific research on them in the next step.
Step 3. Plug your seed keywords into Moz Keyword Explorer
Now that you’ve got your seed keywords, it’s time to start gathering data on them. Start by plugging at least one from each group into Moz’s Keyword Explorer. Below is a screenshot of the results for my keyword, “content marketing services.”
You’ll see a link that says “See all [X] suggestions.”
Click that link to be taken to a page that lists similar keywords to your seed, as well as relevance, and volume.
Next, download the list of keywords into an Excel spreadsheet using the “Export CSV” link.
Use different tabs/sheets in your Excel spreadsheet to separate your keywords for each topical relevancy group.
Ubersuggest is another fantastic tool for generating keyword ideas based on a single seed keyword. Enter one seed keyword, and it will automatically generate a list of potential keyword opportunities. Try it out with at least one of your seed keywords from each group, and add its suggestions to your keyword spreadsheet.
Step 5. Add keywords that the tools may have missed
As we all know, software tools don’t always cover all the bases. Use the following strategies to think of more keywords that you can add to your spreadsheet that the tools may have missed:
Competition and environment. What do you imagine your average customer searching for when they look for a company like yours? What kinds of phrases are your competitors using throughout their websites?
Free association. Once you’ve run out of ideas in this first stage, you can move on to free association. For this, I find it’s best to use a pencil and paper. Instead of deliberately aiming to develop keywords, you’ll write down a basic topic, like “sales,” and you’ll write down the first thing that pops into your mind. Then, write down whatever you associate that next term with. Keep going until you build a chain of terms outward, and if you like, return to the center to build another branch of the web. This will help you break your linear thinking and come up with some novel topics.
Forums and blogs. You can also cruise existing blogs and forums that your target audience might frequent, in or out of your industry, to see what types of topics are popular. Are there any words or phrases that seem to be frequently visited or discussed? What kind of focus do these blogs and forums have? You can also crawl these areas to see if there are any topics your audience is curious about, but haven’t been sufficiently covered by any authors.
Interviews. It’s easy for an individual to get tunnel vision in keyword research, so start talking to the people around you for newer, fresher ideas. Ask your coworkers what keywords and phrases they’d associate with your business, and ask your clients and past clients directly what they would search for if they were looking for a business like yours. These are valuable insights, and you should keep track of them.
Step 6. Evaluate your keywords
You should now be looking at a spreadsheet that contains a bunch of keywords – possibly thousands or even tens of thousands.
Now, it’s time to pick which ones you’re going to use for your campaign. There are three main factors you’ll want to bear in mind for each keyword you select:
1. Relevance. The relevance of a given keyword is a subjective measure of how useful the keyword is to your brand. Obviously, you’ll want to include keywords that are more or less in line with your brand. But even within your niche, some keywords and phrases will be more valuable than others. For example, if you sell bookshelves, the keyword “where to buy bookshelves online” will tend to attract customers interested in buying bookshelves, while “how to build a bookshelf” would attract DIYers who probably aren’t interested in making a purchase from you. Unfortunately, my experience with Moz’s Keyword Explorer for measuring this has not been very reliable, since it’s almost entirely subjective, so you’ll probably need to rely on your own intuition and experience to determine relevance for each keyword in your list.
2. Volume. The search volume for a given keyword is a rough estimate of the number of times that keyword has been searched for, within a given population, over a certain period of time (usually a month). You can use this as a relative gauge of the keyword’s popularity, though it doesn’t specifically tell you about the keyword’s click-through rate or user intent. Still, it’s a valuable at-a-glance metric that can help you determine which keyword rankings will bring you more traffic than others.
If you plug a keyword into Keyword Explorer, you’ll see a volume measurement for it and a number of other related terms:
There’s variation because keyword searches fluctuate from month to month. For example, taking a look at the screenshot above, you can count on the keyword “content marketing” to earn between 11,500 and 30,300 searches each month.
There’s no rule for what search volume you should target; obviously, higher is better, but it usually comes with the tradeoff of higher competition, which makes it more difficult to rank for.
If you’re looking for keyword ideas with at least a certain search volume, you can bring up the suggestions menu and filter by volume:
You could also use Google’s Keyword Planner to perform this search, but since Moz’s Keyword Explorer pulls much of this data, you run the risk of redundancy. Also notice that Google’s Keyword Planner offers much less specific ranges of search volume:
SEMRush offers similar features, but strives for a volume count with pinpoint accuracy. This may be useful in the short term, but if you want better long-term projections, it’s better to rely on a range.
3. Competition. Finally, you’ll want to take a look at the competition rating for each keyword. Again, Google’s Keyword Planner will be able to tell you this, but unfortunately, this data is less objective (giving you only “Low”, “Medium” or “High”) and much less precise than search volume.
Reference the screenshots above, and you’ll see each of these tools offers a different evaluation of the level of competition of our keyword, “content marketing.” Google, for example, lists content marketing as “medium” competition, while Moz Keyword Explorer attempts to offer a more precise score—in this case, 91 out of 100, which most would consider “high.”
SEMRush offers 0.81, at least in the context of paid search, which you could roughly translate to 81 out of 100. Confused yet? Competition is hard to precisely calculate, so take an average, qualitative value here. Based on these competition evaluations, I’d consider “content marketing” to have high competition, and thus, be a very difficult keyword to rank for.
You should eliminate the high-competition keywords from your list unless you’re ready to fight tooth and nail, or you have a massive budget that can help you blow through almost any competitive obstacle. It would take you months of consistent effort to earn rankings for these, and even after all that effort, it’s unlikely that the traffic payoff would be worth it. If you must, include only a couple.
Relevance is up to you to figure out without the help of tools, but volume and competition are objective factors that you can gather with the help of tools.
Once you’ve grouped your keywords into the spreadsheet, remove all the ones that aren’t relevant. Again, this will be a subjective determination that you need to make, based solely on your knowledge of your industry, so just do your best here. This step can take a long time, as you’ll need to manually go over each keyword and determine whether it’s relevant or not.
After you finish removing all the irrelevant keywords, you’ll be left with a list of keywords that are relevant and have some measurable amount of search volume and competition.
Step 7. Conduct competitor research
Next, you’ll want to take a closer look at the competition, and what types of strategies they’re using in their search campaigns.
There are a few reasons you need to learn about your competitors:
Inspiration. If you can understand how they’ve optimized their websites, where they currently rank, and how they’re getting more relevant customers to their sites, you can adopt some of these techniques for yourself.
Understanding competition levels. Second, you’ll be able to gauge what level of competition you’re in for. Are your competitors all fighting viciously for web real estate, or is it an open field?
Discover weaknesses and opportunities. Are there certain niches that your competitors haven’t been able to touch? Are there opportunities for development they’ve missed?
SEMRush is a fantastic tool for conducting competitor research, automatically listing some of your “main organic competitors” once you enter your website domain name:
You’ll get to see their names listed, as well as their relative competition “level,” and what keywords they’re competing with you on.
You can use a tool to help you understand where and how your competition is ranking for various keywords—and I’ll be getting into those at the end of this guide—but for now, you can get an “at a glance” look by searching, in Google, for some keywords you think an average prospect in your target market might use.
As an example, I performed a search for “online time tracking software,” a typical keyword phrase that might be used by someone looking for such a product. You can see a number of time tracking tools ranking for this, many of them using that exact phrase.
But you’ll also find inspiration for tangential keyword phrases, like “employee timesheet,” which seems popular. Look at the titles (in blue), and descriptions (in black), to get a feel for what kinds of keywords they’re using.
You can also use Keyword Explorer to project how the search engine results pages (SERPs) look (found in the “SERP Analysis” tab), which will even rate page authority, domain authority, shares, and links for you:
Step 8. Choose your keepers
After adding new keywords you got from your competitor research, it’s time to choose your keepers.
The ideal keyword is one with high relevance, high search volume, and low competition, but these are hard to find, so you’ll have to make some strategic choices and balance your keyword selections.
The number of keywords you select should depend on the size of your business, your budget, and your goals. Most small- to mid-sized businesses do well with a list of 20-30 keywords. Any more than 30, and you’ll either need a full management team, or you won’t be able to gain much meaningful momentum for any of them.
You don’t have to limit the number of keywords you choose as your “winners” – in fact, the more relevant keywords you track in your keyword rankings, the better accuracy with which you’ll be able to gauge the progress of your content marketing or SEO campaign. Just be sure to only focus on building up a few keywords at a time, as anything more ambitious will likely dilute your efforts too much to be effective.
Step 9. Input your winners into rank tracking software
There are many important metrics to monitor in a full-fledged SEO campaign, including your organic traffic, social traffic, referral traffic, and conversion rates, but when it comes to evaluating your keyword progress specifically, there’s no better metric than your actual keyword rankings. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t explicitly publish this information, so your best bet is to use a tool to help you—AgencyAnalytics is what I personally use, but there are a ton of software options that do this, such as AuthorityLabs, RankWatch, and more.
There you have it. This is the long and short of how to perform “modern” keyword research for SEO—and some tips on what to do with that information once you have it.
Now, let’s turn our attention to the close cousin of keyword research and how it relates to your overall campaign—topic research.
Topic Research for Content Marketing
Though similar to keyword research, topic research has its own process, its own benefits, and its own best practices.
Distinction From Pure SEO Keywords
Topic research follows similar lines as keyword research, but it demands a closer focus on user behavior and content trends than search trends, specifically. For this reason alone, topic research should be treated as a separate entity.
So far, keyword research has been executable and valuable for a standalone SEO campaign, but topic research can benefit you in far more areas; your content campaign, social media marketing campaign, and customer retention strategies can all benefit more from topic research.
There’s some overlap, because both keyword and topic research are designed to bring people to your site, but topic research has a greater likelihood of keeping people on your site.
From a pure customer acquisition perspective, topic research can help you take advantage of the semantic search that Google has been using since it launched its Hummingbird algorithm. Because one-to-one keyword matching can’t guarantee that keyword inclusion will help you rise for specific keyword queries, topic research helps you understand—and meet—user needs, essentially getting in front of more people out of necessity.
As an illustrative example, take the search phrase “garbage disposal is broken.” Google interprets this phrase semantically, understanding that your garbage disposal is not working, and provides content that doesn’t contain these exact keywords (i.e., “How to Fix a Garbage Disposal”), but does interpret and address your need. Topic research helps you find and solve these user needs.
Factors for Success
The factors for success in a topic are slightly different than the success factors for keyword research, because you’re after a qualitative user experience rather than quantitative benefits.
Interest. The first major factor is interest. Your users need to have a vested interest in the topics you produce. What does that mean for your brand? There are a few fundamentals, but ultimately every brand and every audience will have a different answer. For example, one of the most important qualities of “interesting” content is that it’s unique. Your topics can’t be ones that competitors have already covered. You can publish new versions, or different angles, or follow-ups, but it needs to be original. Beyond that, you’ll have to rely on what you know about your demographics, including their wants or needs.
Value. Another important factor is value, and oftentimes this translates to practicality. Your topics should serve some kind of function for your users, giving them instructions they need in a certain situation, or information they need to consider some broader ideas. How-to articles and tutorials are exceptionally popular, but remember, these need to be unique. Also keep in mind that your topics don’t have to be practical to be valuable—the best example of non-practical, valuable content is entertaining content, though obviously this won’t work for just any brand.
Timeliness. Unlike the interest and value factors, timeliness isn’t an absolute necessity, but it can be helpful. New topics, such as those covering a recent event or update in your industry, tend to be highly popular in the first few days and weeks after their release. Trending topics can also be taken advantage of for additional search visibility. However, “new” topics and appropriately timed topics shouldn’t make up the entirety of your focus; you’ll also need “evergreen” topics that will presumably stay relevant indefinitely. Balancing your topic spread between these two types of content timeliness will give you the widest possible spread, helping you take advantage of news topics without sacrificing the longevity of your campaign.
Catchiness. Again, this isn’t a necessity, but it helps if you find topics that are “catchy”—that is to say, topics that have a high likelihood of getting shared or going viral. Content pieces that are shared virally tend to attract far more backlinks, helping them earn more authority and rank even higher for your SEO campaign. A major factor for catchiness is uniqueness, which you’ve hopefully already covered in the “interest” category. Beyond that, you need some kind of emotional “hook,” such as something surprising, or something otherwise emotionally charged.
Phase I: Market research
When you first start the topic research process, you’ll need to dig deep to gain a thorough understanding of the types of people who will be viewing your content. Remember, keyword research allows you to be more quantitative in your approach, calculating things like competition and search volume, but topic research demands a more qualitative approach, forcing you to understand the hows and whys of customer interaction with your material.
Buyer personas. One of the best ways to start is by developing specific “buyer personas” that represent the main demographics you intend to target with your content. Rather than making assumptions or guesses about your audience’s needs, this method will force you to sketch out a portrait of your “average” customer, including their basic information, disposition, interests, family life, professional life, wants and needs. Treat it like you’re developing a fictional character, and interview some of your existing customers to get a better feel for who you’re working with. If you need a good template to build your buyer personas, Hubspot has a great one.
Buying cycle. In addition to buyer personas, you’ll need to get a better understanding for the buying cycle of your average customer. What are your customers thinking when they first start the research process? Where do their interests turn as they become more familiar with your brand? You can use this information in several ways in the course of your topic research. For example, if you want to specialize in one area—such as finalizing potential customers already familiar with your brand, or merely increasing brand familiarity among people unfamiliar with your brand—you can do so by favoring those topics. You can also opt for a more homogenous blend of different target topics.
Social listening. Social listening will help you kill multiple birds with one stone. The basic idea is to “plug in” to social media channels to find out what your key demographics are talking about—what topics they seem to be sharing, what keywords they seem to be including in their posts, and what hashtags are trending. On one level, you’ll be able to learn more about your target demographics—how they behave, what’s important to them, and what they’re interested in. You’ll also get a peek at what types of topics might be good to start producing.
Blogs and forums. Similar to social listening, you can browse blogs and forums to get a feel for what your target market is talking about and interested, and milk them for topics directly. You can use a blog reader for this, but it’s easier to run a quick search for blogs and forums in your industry and go through them manually—you’ll comb through the topics in finer detail that way. BuzzSumo is one of the best tools to use here. With it, you’ll be able to find some of the most shared and linked-to articles in the central topic of your choice. All you have to do is enter a topic and hit search:
You can then use the “sort by” function in the upper-right corner to filter by total shares, or specific types of shares. You can also use advanced search functions (under the search bar) to rule out certain phrase, narrow down your domain criteria, or filter by domains, and use the “content type” filter on the left-hand side to look for specific types of content:
Phase II: Competitive research
Next up, you’ll need to perform some competitive research. When you performed competitive research for keywords, you took a look at the titles and descriptions of their main pages (and possibly used a third party tool to spy on their current rankings).
Here, you can rely on similar tactics to identify your competitors in the first place. For example, you can run a domain search for your own domain in SEMRush and get a list of some of your fiercest organic search competitors.
BuzzSumo also allows you to see the most popular content that links back to your site as well as your competitors’. This can be useful for assessing the value of your competition’s off-site content marketing efforts. Just use the “Backlinks” tab in Buzzsumo, then type in the domain/URL of your site or a competitor site.
Use these tools to identify competitors and find out some of their biggest strengths and weaknesses, then rely on your qualitative analysis to make further conclusions.
Browse through your competitors’ blog content, and see how many comments and shares each of their articles are getting. Take note of their most popular content topics, as well as any topics they have that seem to generate no momentum.
Don’t copy these topics directly; instead, use them as jumping-off points to guide your own work. For example, if a competitor seems to get lots of popularity with “how to” articles, consider creating some of your own.
You can also look for topics that seem to be underexplored or underutilized, such as exploratory topics that don’t tell the full story, or articles with inaccuracies or those that lack substance. These are key opportunities for you to create your own versions, hopefully generating more attention and more links, and giving you the opportunity to outrank your competitor for those related inbound queries.
Phase III: Establish regular and evergreen features
At this point, you’ll have insights into the behavioral patterns of your average customer, social media, blog, and forum trends, and a glimpse into your competitors’ strategies.
Combined with some of the long-tail keyword research you performed in the last section, you should be able to compile a list of popular, interesting, valuable topics that you can introduce to your blog. One of the best strategies to do this is to establish a regular pattern of features.
You don’t want to repeat yourself, but you can leverage certain frameworks multiple times for different facets of your brand. For example, in the online marketing industry, if you find that “top 10” lists are popular and underutilized (this isn’t the best example because top 10 lists are overused, but it works), you could write up a series like “the top 10 benefits of content marketing,” “the top 10 benefits of seo,” and so on.
The key here is to find some frameworks that are repeatable as evergreen content. When your topics are semi-repeatable, you’ll be able to produce a greater volume of content to increase your relevance for those terms, and when they’re evergreen, you know they’ll stay relevant indefinitely, rising in rank as your overall domain authority grows.
Phase IV: Set up news monitoring
With some threads of evergreen content in place, your next step is to set up some kind of news monitoring program. Your goal here is to receive regular updates about what’s happening in your industry or geographic area.
When you see a topic trending, or a new topic emerging that’s relevant for your brand, you can jump on it.
There are three great ways to monitor news developments in your industry.
News subscriptions. First, there’s straightforward content subscriptions. You can use an RSS feed, or subscribe to each brand’s content newsletter, but for me, the best thing to do is head to a blog reader site like Feedly and browse through sources related to your industry. You can go as broad or as specific as you’d like here, and segment your sources however you’d like. Then, whenever you want to look for news, you can head to this singular source and pull from major topics that seem to be trending.
Social media lists. Next, you can create lists of major brands and influencers on your social media platform of choice. For example, on Twitter, you can create custom lists of certain types of accounts and access them to see what they’re talking about. This is a great way to collect your news sources in one area. In combination with your social listening practices, it’s highly effective for cultivating new potential topics from the news. Twitter offers one of the best ways to do this; click on “Lists” in the settings menu, and you’ll be able to create a new list in a few clicks.
Competitive monitoring. You’ll also want to bookmark the blogs of your main competitors, and check back occasionally to see what types of new content they’re developing. Again, this isn’t so you can copy their strategy—instead, scout it for inspiration and for weaknesses that you can exploit in your own topic collection.
Phase V: Execution
By now, you’ve noticed that topic generation isn’t as precise as keyword generation. You won’t have as much quantitative data to work with, and you won’t be generating a list of exactly repeatable phrases.
So from here, it’s best to move straight to execution.
Build an editorial calendar. One of the best ways to keep your topics fresh, organized, and visible to your entire team is to keep them confined to an editorial calendar. This doesn’t have to be a fancy or formal document; in fact, a simple spreadsheet works fine. If you’re looking for a template, I recommend the one that the Content Marketing Institute offers. It gives you enough space to list your headline, author, status, call to action, category, and any other notes you might have—and that’s really all you need to get started. Keep a close eye on your headlinese as you develop this calendar, both to draw inspiration from past posts and make sure you don’t ever repeat yourself.
Leaving space for news. Don’t schedule your content so far in advance that you can’t do anything when a news topic starts trending. Leave yourself some blank spaces, with the assumption that your near-constant news monitoring will allow you to fill in those gaps with timely posts. Remember that your timing is an important element in how your topics are received by a searching public.
Targeting the right audience. When you start drafting your content, don’t forget that you’re writing for a very specific audience. Keep your brand voice consistent and make sure your tone, vocabulary, and structure are all appealing to the type of searcher you intended to target with your content topic. For example, if you’re writing a basic instructional article like “how to clean an air filter in an air conditioner,” you’ll want to avoid getting too technically complex.
Content quality. You’ll also want to make sure that the content you create is “high quality,” which is a frustratingly vague term that refers to your level of depth, your style of writing, the types of media you include, and how much detail you bring your readers. The better your content, the more likely it’s going to be to rank for users’ queries, thanks to its propensity to earn more links and its adherence to Google’s content standards. I outlined 12 elements of high-quality content in my article at Forbes.
Phase VI: Ongoing Adjustments
Like with keyword research, it’s not enough to perform one round of topic research and be done with it. You’ll need to monitor your progress in your topics, and use that information to adjust your campaign in the future.
Traffic. Use Google Analytics to see how much traffic your blog posts are generating. Though here, topic research is used mainly as a way to facilitate an SEO campaign, you can actually measure your articles’ popularity in terms of organic (search) traffic, referral traffic, and social traffic. Take a look at your top performers and ask yourself—why are these bringing in more traffic than the others? Similarly, take a look at your worst performers, and avoid topics like those in the future.
Links and shares. You can use a tool like Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, or URLProfiler to check and see how many inbound links each of your pieces of content has earned, and use your own website to check how many shares you’ve gotten. More links and shares will lead to higher organic search rankings for your individual content pieces and will boost the domain authority of your entire site, but more importantly, these are an indication of your topics’ popularity, effectiveness, and shareability.
Engagements. Finally, take a look at the engagements your topics generate. How many are people responding to them? What kinds of comments are you getting? Are you sparking discussions? Are you inspiring rebuttals or follow-up posts?
Balancing Keywords and Topics
Though SEO and content marketing are often considered separate strategies, the reality is they’re almost indistinguishable. In the words of Neil Patel, “They go together. They just fit. They work well together… SEO is actually all about content marketing, and vice versa.” Both keywords and topics will help you in both areas, so you’ll need both if you want to continue making progress.
Other Keyword Considerations
There are just a handful of additional considerations you should bear in mind when moving forward with your keyword and topic research strategy.
Google’s local search functions on a separate algorithm from its national search. Currently, Google offers a “3 pack” of local results, above the fold of organic search results that features the three most relevant local business it can find for a query.
There are many factors that go into these 3-pack rankings, including conventional SEO authority factors like your link profile, but also your presence in third-party directories and the number of positive reviews your business has received.
If you’re interested in boosting your local relevance, it’s worth considering throwing some local keywords into your campaign – keywords that include a geographic indicator, such as your city name. This can help you expand your relevance for potential searches in your surrounding area, and create more targeted pages for your key demographics.
You’ll want to avoid using clunky phrasing in your keywords, like the “burger restaurant Denver” example I used earlier, but you can still incorporate local keywords into your content more naturally.
Try to use synonyms and alternative descriptions of your area if you do this; for example, a business outside of Cleveland could use terms like “Cleveland,” “Northeast Ohio,” “Greater Cleveland area,” or “Cuyahoga county” to describe its location.
Note that local keywords aren’t necessary to rank; they’re merely an added bonus for local businesses that want the boost.
Rich Answers and Structured Data
Rich answers are becoming an increasingly present feature of Google search; these are informative boxes that pop up above organic search results in response to certain easily answerable queries. For example, the phrase “what is wave particle duality” returns a shockingly concise explanation in paragraph form, drawn from the Wikipedia article on the subject.
There are some fears that these answers, as they become more popular, could wick away some of your organic traffic. However, in the meantime, you can exploit the fact that Google looks to external sources for this information.
As a primary strategy, you can target “answerable” keywords and topics for your campaign, and use a structured markup to feed your information to Google, giving you a chance at being the featured brand in this box. As a secondary strategy, you can target highly niche, hard-to-answer keywords and topics that don’t have a good chance of yielding rich answers in the first place.
It’s a good idea to hedge some of your research by exploring keyword data on Bing and other search engines you encounter, and keep watch to see how they develop over time.
Hashtags and Social Media
Hashtags function similar to keywords on social media, and if you’re engaged in a social media marketing campaign, they’re well worth your notice.
“Trending” lists on various social platforms will help you quickly identify new potential keywords and topics for your on-site content, but don’t forget to also use them in your social media posts (provided you know how to use them appropriately).
Amazon, eBay, and Other eCommerce Search Functions
Your website isn’t the only place where you can optimize pages. If you have a company presence on Amazon, eBay, or a similar service, for example, you can potentially use search data on these niche platforms to optimize your product pages for potential searchers.
Here, you’ll need to optimize your pages both for traditional search engines (i.e., Google), and for in-app searches. Just bear in mind that in-app searches tend to function differently than Google search; they depend heavily on product ratings and reviews to determine authority and rankings.
Tools for Keyword Research
I’ve already listed and explored a number of tools to aid you in your keyword and topic research, but this section is meant to organize, detail, and evaluate them individually.
Some of these tools are better for some functions than others; for example, Ubersuggest is only good for generating more keyword ideas early on in your research. Consult this section to find the tools you need for the various stages of your research, and don’t be afraid to try out multiple tools in multiple ways until you find out what works best for you.
Moz’s Keyword Explorer
If I had to recommend one tool to you, it would be Moz’s keyword research tool—its Keyword Explorer. Keyword Explorer pulls in data from a number of different sources, including Google’s Keyword Planner (more on that next), Google Suggest, and a number of other sources. It compiles this information into easy-to-understand (and visual) metrics, and can even give you keyword recommendations. There’s also a handy import/export function so you can use it in conjunction with your previous work and your ongoing work with other tools.
This tool gives you a lot of information, so what should you really focus on for your keyword research? Well first, you’ll need to plug in some central information—a keyword or keyword phrase that you want to target. Choose what you believe to be one of the most relevant keywords for your brand—as relevance is the one thing Moz won’t be able to measure for you, due to its subjective nature.
From there, take a look at these metrics:
Volume. Keyword Explorer purports to have 95 percent accuracy when it comes to the national search volume for your given term. This should help you almost pinpoint how much traffic each keyword’s going to get.
Difficulty. Rather than relying on vague generalizations, Moz will give you a numerical score for the competition volume of a given word, helping you determine exactly what is and what isn’t too hard to rank for.
Opportunity. The opportunity measure is a subjective score based on the relative power of a given keyword, based in part on click-through rates. Some keywords may have a high volume, but a low opportunity due to significant searches but few engagements.
Potential. If you’re nervous about how to pull this information together into something meaningful, don’t worry—Moz has you covered. Its “potential” score combines the other three factors into a single value on a numerical scale. If you’re looking for one score to tell you whether a keyword’s worth going after, this is the one to view.
In another section, you can use your base input as a way to generate new keyword suggestions.
Keyword Suggestions. This tool goes deeper than most of the others on this list. You’ll be able to select the type of keyword suggestions you receive, filtering by source, by proximity to your original keyword, or even choosing to get a mix between keywords and topics—which makes utilizing both sides of your research easily. You can also filter and sort them by factors like volume and “relevancy” to your original term.
SERP Analysis. After that, you can use this tool for some competitive research (and to get a better feel for your actual ranking opportunity). This section of the tool breaks down what the SERP looks like for this given term, including any of your competitors who currently rank for it, whether there are rich answers present, and whether there’s a significant threat of visibility from existing paid advertisers.
Google’s Keyword Planner is one of the most recommended and most talked-about keyword research tools available, but there are a few major downsides that you should keep in mind before using it. These aren’t deal-breakers, but they are considerations that can (and should affect) how you use and trust the tool. For example, Keyword Planner tends to round search volume data, and splits keywords into “buckets” of numerical data.
You may also find that Keyword Planner gives you inconsistent, or “strange” recommendations that don’t seem to fall in line with your brand. This is subjective, but you’ll want to use a diverse selection of keyword idea generators if you’re looking for new recommendations anyway.
There are four ways to use the Keyword Planner, but only three are going to matter for your organic SEO keyword research.
First, you can search for new keywords by using a phrase, website, or category. This function is relatively straightforward; you can enter any combination of different keyword phrases you’ve come up with, your own domain, a competitor’s domain, or a pre-existing category that Google has outlined for your industry. Google will then use this information to fetch new keyword suggestions that you can fold into the results of your own brainstorming sessions.
Second, you can dig into search volume and other types of data for a keyword list you’ve already generated. This is ideal if you’ve already got a spreadsheet full of keyword ideas and you’re just looking to fill in information like search volume and competition rating.
Finally, you can leverage one of the Keyword Planner’s most unique functions—keyword multiplication. Essentially, what you’ll do is provide two lists to Google, each of which represents one category of information. Google will cross reference these lists to generate a list of possible keywords and phrases for you to target. Check out the example they give below:
Ultimately, Keyword Planner is best used for generating new keyword ideas and collecting consistent information on the keywords you already have, though Moz’s Keyword Explorer does seem to provide more accurate data.
Google Correlate is an interesting niche tool; it won’t provide you with detailed numerical information on keywords, but it will help you uncover trends and patterns in search. For example, you can plug in some of your target keywords to see how their search volume changes with seasonal transitions, or how they compare in different states. There’s a lot to experiment with here, so reserve it for exploring your semi-finalized list of keywords in greater detail.
BuzzSumo is a tool best used for topic research, rather than keyword research. With it, you’ll be able to search for a range of different topics, and explore some of the most popular stories within that topic. You can filter by date, language, country, and content type, then explore to see how each of these top-performing topics are doing.
For example, you can check out how many shares a topic has gotten on each major social media platform, or evaluate how many links it’s gotten. This is great for checking to see whether your topic ideas have already been explored, how they’ve been explored in the past, and how popular those topics were. If you’re still in the ideation phase, you can search for more general topics and keywords, and browse through these lists to find inspiration for your own topics.
Be sure to check out the monitoring, area, where you’ll be able to keep an eye on what your competition is doing in terms of content and SEO on a regular basis.
As you’ve already seen, SEMRush offers several different functions, including a keyword research and keyword ideation tool similar to the ones offered by Moz and Google that will break down things like search volume, cost-per-click (which can be used as an indirect way to measure competition), and SERP appearance.
However, where SEMRush really shines is its ability to help you monitor and analyze your performance. You can plug in your domain or URL and immediately see a plethora of information about your site, including your organic and paid search traffic, your inbound links, and your organic keyword rankings.
Since Google doesn’t provide this information and manual hunting is a tedious pain, having all your major keyword rankings in one spot is incredibly beneficial—it can even help you discover keywords you didn’t know you were ranking for!
In addition to this, you’ll be able to plug in a list of your own keywords and monitor your performance for those specifically.
Ubersuggest is one of the simpler tools on this list, but it’s highly valuable for generating new keyword ideas because of that simplicity. It uses Google’s suggest feature to come up with recommended variations of a target keyword or phrase that you enter—it’s a fantastic way to start general and work to more specific potential targets.
All of these tools have strengths and weaknesses, and no single tool will provide you everything you need for a thorough bout of keyword and topic research. All of them are either free or offer free trials, so do yourself a favor and experiment with all of them.
Regardless of what peripheral strategies you use for your campaign, keyword and topic research is essential if you want to employ your SEO and content strategy with any kind of direction. You can use it as intensively or as passively as you like, depending on your goals, as long as you keep in mind how Google functions with semantic search.
Despite what you might hear, keywords are still very much a part of effective SEO—as long as you’re researching and implementing them properly.
After all the initial work of establishing a blog and choosing a broad strategic direction, you’ll need to start coming up with topics and titles to fill your editorial queue—and fast. Most content marketers (especially newbies, but seasoned vets as well) struggle coming up with new topics as their campaigns roll on. Fortunately, there’s a practically endless supply of title “frameworks” that, with a little modification, can serve as ideal slot-fillers in your campaign.
In this guide, I’m bringing you 101 of them.
What’s in a Title?
You might be thinking to yourself, why just the titles? That doesn’t give you much meat to work with. However, titles are especially important to the content creation process for a number of reasons:
Direction. Seeing a new title can spark a new direction for your content, giving you a brief groundwork to use in your new article.
SEO benefits. The title is one of the most important parts of an article for SEO, and many of these will help you rank for your industry-specific terms.
Clickability. Unless your headlines are catchy and intriguing, you won’t get any click-throughs. This makes headlines one of the most important elements of your articles.
Many of these titles have blanks in them, generally referring to your industry, your products, a specific action or task within your industry, or some other niche-specific item. I’ll guide you where appropriate on each individual blank, but there’s a lot of flexibility here. Additionally, wherever you see “X,” you can replace X with any number.
Without further ado, here are 101 title ideas you can use on your blog:
1. How to ____.
First, we have a simple entry. The blank here can be any process you can think of related to your industry. It could be how to solve a technical issue with one of your main products. It could be how to learn a new skill if you have no experience. It could even be how to start and manage a business like yours. Because of the broadness of this topic, you’ll be tempted to choose high-level concepts here, like “how to drive a car,” but the more specific you are, the better, like with “how to drive a two-wheel drive car in snow.” You’ll face less competition and have higher relevance this way.
2. How to ____ in X Steps.
This is a variant on the previous title, but offers the distinct advantage of including a number in the headline. Numbers automatically make headlines more appealing and clickable, which gives it an immediate edge. Part of the motivation behind this is that it illustrates that your concept is simpler than it may appear; breaking down a task like “how to draw a dog” into six steps makes it more approachable, and makes it seem faster to learn. Plus, you’ll give yourself a framework when it comes time to write the actual article, helping you break down the process.
Here, we have another number-based headline that should get users’ immediate attentions. As you’ll see in the titles throughout this guide, a common thread is heavily implying that your readers are about to learn something new. Here, that effect is made bluntly; you’re directly stating that you’re about to tell your readers something they didn’t know before about the subject of your choice. The word “secrets” also adds a layer of mystique here, making your readers feel like they’re about to get some privileged information. Just make sure you have something juicy to back up this headline’s power.
4. What ____ Doesn’t Want You to Know.
This is a powerfully attractive headline for click-throughs; it tells users you have some piece of information they don’t have, but doesn’t give that information away, and also offers a kind of dare—that they aren’t supposed to know this. As for the blank, that’s usually some kind of authority figure, or someone that your readers are paying money to—for example, “what your accountant doesn’t want you to know,” or “what big-box retailers don’t want you to know.” The only problem with a headline like this is that it borders on clickbait, which can damage your reputation if you traditionally offer straightforward content.
5. X Lies You’ve Been Told About ____.
The thread continues with this title, which again offers privileged information that readers previously haven’t gotten. There’s a teasing element, which will lure more clicks, but this title is interesting because it uses the word “lies.” Lies are deliberate actions taken to deceive someone, leading your readers to believe that not only do they believe untrue information, but someone actively wants them to believe it. For most readers, this is reason enough to click through—again, just make sure you have something good waiting for them on the other side.
6. X Myths About ____ You Probably Still Believe.
This title forces users to confront the fact that they might believe something that isn’t true, but instead of putting the blame on some authority figure that’s “lied” to them, you resort to something more innocent—a myth or misconception. This title also automatically implies that you’re an authority on the subject; you’ve somehow risen far enough about the common myths to not only recognize them, but work actively to correct them when you see them. And of course, there’s a number at the beginning, so it’s automatically more clickable.
7. X Things We Learned From _____.
Though not always a rule, in many industries, it’s advantageous for your business to attend conferences, tradeshows, workshops, and seminars. These are valuable opportunities to promote your business, network with others in your space, learn new things, and walk away with some new direction for your business. Unfortunately, not all businesses or workers get to attend these events, so you have a critical opportunity to share your knowledge with them—and lead with a powerful title at the same time. Reduce the hours you spent at the event to a handful of key takeaways, and start capitalizing on the keywords associated with the event.
This is another title that shows off your expertise—and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t taken advantage of it. Human beings are naturally curious, so we’re always speculating about the future, wondering what’s about to come next. Seeing this headline, projecting what’s coming next in quantifiable, segmented bullet points, users won’t be able to help but click through. Even if they don’t agree with your predictions, you’ll satisfy their curiosities and show off your knowledge of the industry’s past and present.
9. X Quotes About the Future of ____.
Remember everything I said about human curiosity naturally wondering about the future and apply it to this title. It’s a slight variant on the original model, but note a couple of key differences. Rather than making concrete predictions, you’re talking about the future in much more vague terms—so you can chart paths of development rather than quantifiable milestones. Plus, you’ll be drawing on quotes from influencers in your industry rather than coming up with them yourself (either through interviews or by finding this information online already).
10. X Inspirational Quotes to Help You ____.
People love a good quote—especially when those quotes are conveniently assembled into one nice, neat package. Pick a topic related to your industry (or maybe just choose your industry in general) and hunt down some inspirational quotes on the subject—you can use an archive like BrainyQuote to get the job done. Make sure you acknowledge where the quotes came from, and try to dress them up, if you can, with images or meta-commentary.
11. The One Thing You’ve Been Missing to ____.
Have you ever wanted to achieve a goal, like losing ten pounds or hitting a certain sales figure, but found yourself consistently unable to meet it? Most of us have at some point, and it’s an unbelievably frustrating experience. In that moment of frustration, if someone offered you a simple solution to bypass your failures and finally achieve your dream, how excited would you be? This is the emotion you’re playing with here. The biggest obstacle in using this title effectively is finding a problem your target audience faces that’s significant and common enough that most of your readers have experienced it—then finding a one-size-fits-all solution.
12. The Worst Advice You Can Hear About ____.
It might be a sense of morbid curiosity. It might be a comparative way to see how good you’re actually doing. It might be a way to learn by contrast. Whatever the case, we all seem to be borderline obsessed with reading about bad advice. Take it a step further to make it the “worst” advice, and you’ll capture a ton of attention in your field of expertise. As for the source of your inspiration, that’s up to you. This can be advice you’ve actually heard, or a mistake you’ve see made reduced to advice form. As long as it’s a bit nasty, you’ll be in business.
13. The Best Advice You Can Hear About ____.
Let’s not get too negative, though. For every person squirming to learn what the worst advice on a given topic is, there are just as many people who want to know the positive corollary. Tracking down the “best” advice on a subject is tough work, and most of the time, there’s no such thing as one bit that’s objectively “best.” However, you can back up your claims with evidence, or even an anecdote, to make your topic resonate with audiences. It’s also valuable to point out other pieces of good advice that didn’t make the cut as the “best” to show you did your homework.
14. Read What These X Experts Have to Say About ____.
One of the most effective ways to secure visibility online is to stir up debate or disagreement. When people disagree with each other, they become more emotionally invested, more vocal, and the piece itself attracts more comments, shares, and reactions. All of these are good things, so how can you imply discussion and debate with just a title? This title fits the bill. You’ll track down a number of experts, find their views on a given subject (hopefully disagreeing with each other), syndicate the article, and let the fun begin. Also note that the title isn’t sensationalized; it just presents the situation as it is.
15. Why We Love ____ (and You Should Too!)
People increasingly rely on recommendations to make their decisions. They’ll even trust reviews from strangers rather than relying on their own devices because we’re social creatures who like to see human-backed evidence that a decision is correct, or at least worthwhile. If readers have any sliver of trust for your brand, they’ll see a title like this and will want to know more about what it is you’re recommending and why you’re recommending it. The only caveat here is that your blank space shouldn’t be overtly self-promotional; stick to things your target audience will find genuinely useful.
16. ____ 101: All the Basics You Need to Know.
When there’s a topic you know nothing about, but want a briefer on it so you can hold your own in a discussion or prepare to be immersed in the field, what do you do? You Google it, just like the rest of us, hoping to find an all-in-one guide that explains the high-level view of the subject with a handful of practical takeaways to boot. Introductory classes in college are frequently referred to as “101” courses, so labeling your introductory guide is a good way to secure some immediate attention.
17. The Beginner’s Guide to ____.
You may see this title and think it’s almost identical to the 101 guide I covered in the last entry. However, a 101 guide covers everything there is to know about a subject—from its history to the basics to long-term strategies—while a beginner’s guide is custom-made for people trying to get started in a field. For example, a “101” guide for SEO might give you a high-level vision of what SEO is and how it works, while a “beginner’s” guide might give you some fast tips to start actually optimizing your website.
18. The Intermediate Guide to ____.
The title says it all, both to you and to your readers. Generally, if you’re going to go this route, you’ll want to start with a beginner’s guide first; that way, you’ll prepare your readers for a series to come next, and you’ll be able to capitalize on a single stream of audience members throughout the process. Your intermediate guide should target the same audience, but be a bit more advanced in scale; you’ll want to go over some common misconceptions, more technically demanding tasks and skills, and how to develop a long-term plan.
19. The Expert’s Guide to ____.
The last guide in this chain, as you might imagine, is the “expert’s guide.” This will be sure to attract a number of people in your industry—from self-proclaimed experts who want to check to see if there’s anything they’re missing, to entry-level newbies who want a glimpse at what they’re in store for in the long run. Referring to it as an “expert’s guide” will make you seem like an expert yourself—but only if you can successfully back that claim up with quality content. This guide should be packed with valuable information, living up to its title and then some.
20. The Ultimate List of Resources for ____.
No matter how good your blog is, it’s not a comprehensive resource for everything there is to know about your industry. Even if you somehow provided all the information all your readers needed, there would still be trade organizations, networking opportunities, and other organizations who offer what you can’t. That’s why an “ultimate” list of resources is so appealing; it aggregates all those sources and puts them in one convenient place. The title alone will encourage readers to click through, rather than hunting down all those resources individually—and you might get some extra shares from people “bookmarking” this guide for later reading. You can see one good example of this here.
21. X Videos About ____ You Have to Watch.
This is a form of content aggregation, which can be both powerful and efficient if you use it correctly. The idea behind aggregation is to collect bits of content that other people have already created, assemble them on your own space, and add a bit of your own flavor to it, either with commentary or by unifying them under a single theme. There are many options here, but the key advantage is obvious; you don’t have to create the videos yourself. Instead, you merely need to find interesting videos that already exist and collect them in a way that makes them even more valuable to your readers. The headline also makes the notion compelling: you “have to” watch these.
22. X ____ Podcasts You Should Be Listening To.
Podcasts are seeing a massive resurgence in popularity, for a handful of reasons. People are crazy about them, and are always looking for new ones to follow and listen to. That’s where this headline comes in; it’s another form of content aggregation, but this time centered on podcasts. The burden will be on you a little more here—since users can’t listen to full podcasts on your site, you’ll be relegated to describing them in detail. Make sure you do a sufficient job of giving your audience what they need to make their listening decisions, and choose from the best podcasts you can find.
23. The X Blogs You Need to Be Reading on ____.
At first glance, you might think this is another form of content aggregation. For your readers, certainly, it fills a similar role; they’ll be scouting this type of post to find more content for their wants and needs. However, it also serves as an engine for recommendation. You won’t be featuring any specific posts from these blogs on your site, but you will be listing them. Spend some time finding some of the top blogs in the industry, and make sure you justify each of your recommendations.
24. X Reasons Your ____ Isn’t Working.
One of the worst feelings is putting something together with excitement and high hopes, only to realize it’s not working the way you expected it to. For example, you might have started a new marketing campaign expecting a certain increase to your traffic flow, or you might have attempted a DIY project that didn’t turn out quite right. In any case, you’re confused, and this title promises to correct that confusion. Plus, even if you aren’t experiencing any immediate problems, if you’re interested in the subject, you might see this title and read the piece proactively to learn what could be done in the future.
25. How to Troubleshoot ____.
Troubleshooting can cover a lot of hypothetical ground. You might write a troubleshooting article on a problem with your software or products, or help correct people in their approach to solving a certain problem in their life. In any case, the word “troubleshooting” bears most of the significance in this title; either your readers will be interested in correcting a problem, or they won’t be. If you want to add a bit of flair to the title and possibly get more impulsive clicks, you could amend the title by adding “in X steps.” Such an addition also implies more certainty and finality, which is always good in problem solving.
26. What Will ____ Be Like in X Years?
This is another kind of prediction article, similar in premise to the titles I introduced earlier in this collection, but with a slightly different viewpoint. Rather than making predictions about how an industry or subject matter will develop, you’ll be trying to take a snapshot of how it looks like after a number of years have elapsed. For example, rather than making claims like “SEO will become more conversational,” or “search engines will adopt more machine learning updates,” you could try to illustrate the totality of SEO as it will stand in 2025.
27. X Common Misconceptions About ____.
There are two obvious trigger words here, and the first is “misconception.” This implies that there’s something your readers believe to be true that isn’t—and that compels them to find out what that is. Even if they don’t believe themselves to hold any misconceptions on the subject, their curiosity will drive them to check to be sure. The other word is “common.” These aren’t just misconceptions that happen to pop up from time to time; instead, there’s an implied likelihood that most readers harbor these misconceptions, making the article appealing to more people.
28. The X Funniest Stories We’ve Heard About ____.
Taking a break from somewhat serious matters like troubleshooting and correcting misconceptions, this title is less practical but far more entertaining. Depending on your readership and the makeup of your other content, this could be a standout title in your syndication efforts. It promises your stories to be amusing, and also gives you lots of options. These are just “stories,” so you’re unrestricted about how to attain them; for example, you could tell anecdotes about your own experiences, or explain something that happened to someone else, case study style.
29. X ____ Tweets That Will Make You Rethink Your Strategy.
This is a form of content aggregation, but the spin in the title makes it that much more appealing. First, note the use of the word “tweet”—you could substitute another medium of content (like “quotes” or “blog posts”) but tweets imply something succinct. Combined with the number at the beginning, your readers will immediately understand that this is a rapid-fire means of consuming content. This also implies a degree of significance; these tweets are informative and surprising enough to make you rethink your strategy entirely.
There are a few titles about influencers on this list, whether you’re listing them outright or drawing quotes from them, but this one is different; this one is about the influencers on social media that your readers should be keeping tabs on regularly. Why is this differentiated? First, it qualifies influencers not on how influential they are or what they have to say, but the consistency at which they have good things to say. This is a subtle, yet important distinction. It also implies that these are people “everybody” follows, piquing readers’ interests and drawing them in.
31. X Quick Tips About ____.
Some of the guides I’ve mentioned earlier in this article are in-depth, such as “how to” posts, or the history of your given industry, but not everyone has time to wade through long-form material. Just like the “tweets” title implied a degree of urgency and lightness, this title boasts a similar appeal. Here, you’ll be coming up with a number of “quick tips” to guide your readers in the right direction. For example, “quick tips” on driving wouldn’t be a comprehensive guide on how to operate a vehicle; instead, it would boil down to easy-to-follow improvement tips like avoiding slamming on the brakes or slowing down in inclement weather.
32. X Fast Facts About ____.
This is a sister title to the one above it. People love to get small nuggets of information, which is why “did you know” style pieces of content and trivia are so popular. Here, you’ll let your readers know that they won’t have to spend much time on your piece to get something valuable about it, which is compounded by the fact that there’s a number in the title. The blank for both of these titles can be pretty much any subject you can think of related to your brand, including your brand itself; why not show off some of the facts that make your company unique?
33. The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on ____.
“Cheat sheets” are fundamentally reference materials, which makes them appealing to anyone trying to get ahead in your industry or with a specific subject. Your cheat sheet could be a list of reminders, a boiled-down set of instructions, or even a list of reference materials to consult. It can be whatever you want it to be as long as it provides some fast, helpful information on your topic of choice. The title is also persuasive because the phrase “cheat sheet” implies that your readers are getting away with something borderline “wrong,” or something exclusive that only exists for the in-crowd.
34. The Ultimate Checklist for ____.
Avoiding the positive and negative aspects of “cheat sheet,” a checklist-style post is a sure way to get interested readers. Checklists are helpful for almost any task you can imagine, and they’re also usually speed-reads. If you can make your checklist interactive, you’ll engage your audience even further. Try to be as comprehensive as possible here; if your checklist is effective enough, your readers will likely bookmark your page so they can return to it later the next time they’re working on this project.
35. The Top 10 ____.
Note that there’s no stand-in “X” variable for the number here. It’s entirely possible and valid to have “top 5” or “top 8” or any other types of posts, but “top 10” has a ring to it that makes it stand out from all the others (my hypothesis is that it’s due to the alliteration). In any case, you have a lot of room for creativity here. You could do the top 10 influencers in your industry, the top 10 software management products for a given application, or the top 10 innovations that sparked change in your industry. The sky’s the limit; almost any top 10 post will attract ample attention (and may even spark a debate).
36. A Buyer’s Guide for ____.
This is ideal for companies that are selling tangible products. You’ll be creating content specifically tailored toward people looking to buy products like yours, and telling them exactly what to look for when they buy. Try not to be too salesy, though; you’ll want to create a legitimate buyer’s guide that walks users through all the steps in making a decision, presenting your competitors on somewhat equal footing. You can go the full-scale interactive route, like in the example below, or work on something more concise; this depends on how much time your target audience needs before finalizing a decision, which will obviously vary.
One of the best ways to drive attention to your blog posts is to strike up a controversy, and with this title, you can do it before your readers even click the headline. Immediately, you’ll call out a product, a strategy, an approach, or even an influencer (be careful with that, though), and declare it to be getting more attention than it deserves. You’ll probably get some shares and comments on this type of post from people who haven’t even read it, but don’t rely on that to help you succeed—make sure you back up your bold claim with compelling evidence.
38. X Alternatives for ____.
This is another title with tons of potential applications. You could list alternatives to solving a problem, alternatives to a prominent brand or company, or go more conceptual with alternative ways to think or brainstorm. The word “alternative” is the obvious focal point here; it appeals to anyone looking for more options on a given topic. Even if you’re satisfied with the way you’ve been handling something, you can’t help but be curious about what those alternatives are.
39. X Considerations Before You ____.
This post serves as a kind of gentle warning, zeroing in on an audience that’s about to take a given action, such as making a major purchase or pulling the trigger on a new business strategy. This type of post offers a handful of important considerations before following through, from a kind of mentorship role. Readers see a title like this and immediately view you as an authority with some kind of experience in your chosen topic, lending some extra weight to the headline.
40. What These People Did Wrong in ____.
It’s natural to be curious about the ways that other people have messed up. There are some clear motivations for why this the case. First, there’s the amusement factor; it’s kind of funny to read about someone else’s mistake, and the playfulness of this title implies that level of amusement. Second, there’s the education factor; we like to read about how other people screwed up so we aren’t doomed to the same fate. In fact, there’s some evidence to show that we learn more from other people’s mistakes than we do our own.
41. Do You Need ____? Take Our Quiz to Find Out.
This one’s for all those potential customers on the fence about your products or services, or those who aren’t quite sure what they need in a given area. The brain gravitates toward certainty; when we don’t know something, we’re compelled to find an answer (regardless of what that answer is). The quiz element shows a degree of both interactivity and personalization, distinguishing it from the usual types of “filler” content posts, and indicates that once taken, this quiz will lead a reader to a final, definitive answer.
42. How Much Do You Really Know About ____?
This is a direct challenge to your readers, and one that you’ll find works quite effectively to draw people in. This is one of the most ambiguous headlines on this list, which means you have the flexibility to transform it into almost anything you want. You could use it as a platform to uncover little-known facts about your industry, or highlight the fact that few people know much about your products. In any case, this forces an introspective thought in your readers—“how much do I know?”—followed by an urge—“I want to find out.”
43. X Signs You Should Invest in ____.
This headline gives you a chance to show off your products and services (though of course, your content will have to remain neutral and informative for the most part). The blank here is something you sell, whatever that happens to be. There are two main keys in this headline, the first of which is “X signs,” giving readers a certifiable blueprint they can use to come to a decision. The second is the word “invest.” Investments are different than purchases—it implies you’ll get more out of the transaction than what you put in, elevating your value immediately.
44. The History of ____.
This is a simple, straightforward headline, but it works well to appeal to history buffs and anyone especially interested in where your industry came from. You can do your industry, or some segment of it, from a high-level perspective, but it’s better to go after something more specific if you want to attract more attention. You can also transform this post into almost any kind of medium you want—generally, visual is better, like the infographic examples below. It’s easier to acquire and retain information this way, especially when dates and timelines are involved. We’ve done two examples of this type of headline with the following infographics:
This one may make you feel arrogant. After all, how are you to know how to solve the biggest problems, even if they’re in your area of expertise? If the top minds of the industry haven’t been able to completely solve them after decades of work, how could you hope to address them in a single post? That’s what your readers are going to be thinking, too, and they’ll want to see what suggestions you have to offer. Remember, you don’t have to completely eradicate these problems to “solve” them—instead, you could merely offer advice on how to work around them, or mitigate their effects.
46. The X Habits of Successful ____.
Ever since the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was released, people have loved the idea of studying the habits of people who have already achieved success (they did before, too, but not with such a specific name). The idea is that by mimicking the actions and habits of people who have already accomplished greatness, you can accomplish greatness in your own right. Of course, most of this is usually anecdotal evidence affected by human bias, but it’s still interesting to study and will undoubtedly earn you clicks in your core niche.
47. X Ideas for Your ____.
You clicked on this post, didn’t you? Take a moment to think about why. Maybe you’ve been struggling to come up with title ideas and you wanted some extra inspiration, or maybe you feel confident about your ability to come up with ideas and were curious about what I had to say. Either way, the notion of reviewing a list of someone else’s ideas for your own use is appealing (not to mention practical). The higher the number here, the better, as it implies a higher value for brainstorming and utility. The ideas themselves can be anything—strategies, creations, recipes, dates, or anything else you can think of.
48. The X Types of ____s You Need to Know.
We like to classify and organize things; it helps us understand our subject matter better. That’s why this post is valuable—it takes some big, complex group, like social media followers or donuts, and reduces them to a number of different “types” that can be separately studied and analyzed. If there are categories out there that already exist—like powdered sugar donuts—feel free to use them. Otherwise, don’t hesitate to invent some categories of your own. The tail end of this headline—the “need to know” gives it some extra oomph.
49. X Amazing Things You Wouldn’t Have Guessed About ____.
Human curiosity once again enters with this title—and you already know its power. You’re implying that the items you’re listing are not only “amazing,” but they’re currently unknown to the reader. What you’re actually promising here is a surprise, and the magnitude of that surprise is intensified by your “amazing” adjective. Of course, you’ll want to back this up by offering some truly surprising tidbits about your audience’s interest, but the title alone will help you sell them.
50. X Tools Everyone in ____ Should Be Using.
Some of the best blog ideas are ones that give users some practical value, almost like drawing water from a faucet. This is a promise for pure practicality; once a reader is done with this blog, they’ll walk away with X brand new tools to leverage in whatever context you choose. More isn’t necessarily better here; sometimes, offering a sheer quantity of tools is helpful, while other times, it’s better to delve deeper into the pros and cons of each one.
51. Are You New in ____? Here’s Everything You Need to Know.
This is another title that’s partially reliant on the type of audience you’re serving. If you want to exclusively cater to readers who have been in your industry for years, or more advanced experts, this isn’t going to work. Otherwise, it’s a great way to appeal to the entry-level crowd. You may even attract some intermediate-level professionals who want to catch up on everything they might have missed in their first few years.
52. How I Made ____ in X Years/Months/Days.
This is a more personal post than most of the others on this list, but I always recommend leveraging personal brands to make your content more powerful. There are a number of appeals here. First, the “I” alone makes this post resonate more powerfully, as it’s the relation of a personal experience. Next, the creation—the blank, which can be money, a business, or any kind of achieved goal—gives the title some measurable weight. Finally, the “X” referring to a measure of time makes it seem possible for any reader to achieve a similar goal within those time constraints.
53. An Innovator’s Guide to ____.
The one thing that makes us all the same is our desire to be different. We all like to believe we’re special, and that we’re different from everybody else. We see ourselves as innovators, in whatever space we’re in. That’s why this title resonates with such power; it gives people a chance to see a certain topic from the perspective of someone who thinks “outside the box.”
54. A Practical Guide to ____.
This is another variation of the “common” guide template, but focuses on more practical takeaways. This is ideal if your audience is impatient, or if they’re focused on bottom-line figures, like incoming revenue, goals, or other specific accomplishments. The title also implies that it’s been stripped of any superfluous additions, like fluff content or other wasted material.
55. The Frugal Guide to ____.
When it comes to startups, small business owners, parents, fresh college grads, and about a hundred other potential demographics, frugality is a virtue. Few people, excepting the very rich, actively enjoy spending money, and with all other variables being equal, prefer more cost-effective options. We like to get the most for our money, and the raw appeal of this title somewhat proves it. You can spin almost anything into a frugal version of itself, from buying cheaper pizza to managing human resources more wisely.
56. How to ____ the Right Way.
The power of this title comes from the fact that, if there’s a “right” way to do something, there’s also a “wrong” way to do it. Even if your target readers are absolutely confident they’ve been doing something the “right” way, or at least an effective way, some small part of them will be curious to figure it out for sure. Is there some other way to go about this? You can also put a variant on this title by adding “in X steps,” which makes your promise of a strategy more concrete.
57. X Hacks For ____.
The exact structure of this title doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the presence of the word “hacks,” which has become a buzzword thanks to the takeover of life hacks in our common lexicon. A “hack” is basically any kind of shortcut or trick designed to make something more effective or more efficient, and they exist in almost any area of life or profession you can think of. Introducing “hacks” into your title makes people curious about what insider information awaits them.
58.The Anatomy of ____.
In this post, you’ll be breaking down the makeup of some element related to your business. If you sell products, you might demonstrate the anatomy of one, like “the anatomy of our smart can openers,” or “the anatomy of a perfect mattress.” Otherwise, you can focus on more abstract ideas, like “the anatomy of an ideal meeting agenda.” The point is to imply some kind of deeper analysis, breaking down the components of a given subject to better understand how it works, like the “perfect landing page” in the infographic example below.
People love to watch trends. Evergreen content topics are good, and generally preferred due to their indefinitely long lifespan, but the appeal of trends is sharper and faster. They’re new, they’re fleeting, and they need to be acted on quickly if they’re going to serve your purpose, so they make for a perfect injection into your headlines. The fact that there are a concrete number of them is just an added bonus.
60. X Reasons Your Competitors Are Out-____ing You.
The blank here can be any verb that relates to your business, though generally, this headline applies more to business owners than direct consumers. If you want to make it more consumer-centric, you’llhave to swap out the word “competitors” for something more relevant, like “peers” or “managers.” As an example, if you’re an SEO agency, you can offer X reasons your competitors are “outranking” you, or you could go with the general “outperforming” if you include some specific industry terminology elsewhere.
61. X ____s Everyone Should Own.
This title can be tricky to pull off, and certainly works better in some contexts than it does for others. The problem is there aren’t many general products that everyone “should” own—there’s too much differentiation in needs besides food, water, and shelter. However, if you substitute “everyone” with a more specific, industry-related term, you can expand your range. You can even change the word own to “use” if you get stuck. For example, you could offer “X efficiency tools every marketer should use.”
62. X Questions to Ask Before ____.
This is a great title for any business that sports a long buying cycle, or one that requires significant consideration from clients and consumers. The vast majority of people consult the web before making any kind of purchase, so if your target market is struggling to finalize a decision, this is the perfect chance to capture them. Here, you’ll let them know exactly what they should be thinking about and what they should be asking their prospective dealers. It’s also a perfect opportunity to lead potential clients or buyers in your direction.
63. X Ways to Research ____.
This title follows the same core concept as the last one—consumers want to do their research and learn more information before making a final buying decision. Here, instead of telling them what questions to ask or what to consider, you’ll be telling them how to conduct their research. For example, you could tell them to ask friends and family members, find referrals, or get quotes from multiple providers before finalizing.
64. X Ways You Can Become ____.
Everyone’s trying to get somewhere. For some people, that’s becoming a doctor. For others, that’s becoming physically fit. Some people just want to be a “better” version of what they already are, like a “better writer” or “better golfer.” You can use that desire to feed into this title, giving users executable strategies they can use to get wherever they want to go. You can also substitute more specific phrases in for “ways,” such as “avenues for becoming” or “ideas for becoming.” Just keep it focused on that end goal.
65. X Signs You’re Wasting Your Time in ____.
In our culture, time is precious, to the point where we count every second of our days. If you imply that your readers are spending their time in inefficient ways, or that they’re wasting time altogether, they’ll be desperate to figure out how to correct the problem. This article will imply that many of your readers are wasting their time in some area of their lives, and that you have the knowledge necessary to fix it.
66. The X Key Benefits of ____.
This article title is ideal if you’re targeting users early in the buying cycle, but can be a good way to optimize for your target keywords, too. Here, you’ll be outlining the main benefits of whatever it is you’re offering, whether that’s a product or a service. It’s an entry-level piece, to be sure, but it’s got lots of appeal to anyone who’s completely unfamiliar with the subject.
67. Pros and Cons of ____.
If you’re trying to take a more unbiased approach, or speak to readers who are debating whether or not to move forward with their decision, you can list out the pros and cons of your product or service, or some other element of your business. For example, you could discuss the pros and cons of hiring a contractor versus doing a job yourself, or the pros and cons of hybrid cars.
68. Which Is Better: ____ or ____?
Typically, there are at least a handful of ways your clients will be faced with diametrically opposed options. Should they hire a freelancer or full-time worker? Should they get cake or ice cream for a birthday party? Should they choose vinyl or wood siding? This comparison title promises to permanently resolve the dispute (even if all you’re doing is objectively comparing the two against each other). Some sites, like Diffen, have dedicated themselves exclusively to this approach due to its popularity with users.
People want to make sure they’re spending money in the right way, and that their investments are going to pay off. This title immediately shows readers that you have empathy for their position; the wording implies you’re familiar with the struggle—and that you have a genuine answer. In most cases, the answer will be “yes,” giving you the opportunity to pitch your business to new readers, but stay as objective as possible.
70. X Ways to Motivate Yourself for ____.
These days, when someone feels unmotivated or can’t bring themselves to do a task, they turn to the Internet, where they can browse the news and discover new articles. If they see a title that addresses and responds to that lack of motivation, they’ll be highly likely to click through—and hopefully find some inspiration to get back to whatever it was they were doing.
71. X Ways to Generate New Ideas for ____.
I’ve already presented a post idea for simply presenting new ideas to your readers, but that’s a “give a man a fish” method. This title is a “teach a man to fish” approach. Instead of merely presenting ideas for your readers to use, you’ll be giving them ways to come up with their own ideas. For example, instead of giving you 101 titles for your blog, I could have recommended strategies like word association games, reading competitor blogs, and social listening to come up with them on your own.
72. X ____ Strategies You Hadn’t Considered.
This title obviously caters to a crowd that relies on strategies to accomplish some goal. This is often, but not necessarily, relegated to the business world. For example, you could list sales strategies or bear hunting strategies your audience hadn’t considered. The key point of interest in this title is the “hadn’t considered,” leaving your readers to feel like there are strategies they haven’t been able to come up with on their own, further enhancing your expertise and value.
73. X Underrated ____ Strategies.
As we’ve seen a number of times already, “strategies” are almost always a good angle to go. You can come up with strategies or approaches for almost any subject matter, and people will eat them up because they’re valuable. Here, the differentiator is the word “underrated,” which implies two things—first, that these strategies aren’t used or appreciated, which makes them rare and appealing. And second, that these strategies are highly effective.
74. The X Most Popular Forms of ____.
The blank here can be anything, but is best served as one of your top products or service offerings. For example, you could reference the most popular types of cheese, or the most popular forms of advertising. People have a vested interest in knowing what other people think—it’s the whole reason things go viral. People tend to value popular things more, which drives their popularity even further.
75. Which ____ Is Right for You?
This is a variation on a buyer’s guide, except there may not be any purchasing involved. For example, you might write about “which management style is right for you?” or “what type of pants are right for you?” You can also vary this based on specific situations, like “what type of pants are right for a wedding?”
76. X Fundamentals to Know About ____.
This certainly isn’t the first post idea on this list that’s targeted toward beginners—we’ve also seen “101” and specifically designated “beginner’s guides.” But this one takes the approach from a slightly different angle, reducing the entire process to a specific number of fundamentals that people need to know. The article also has an appeal for more experienced members, who can use the article as a refresher or even as a teaching aide.
77. The Magic Formula for ____.
There’s never a magic formula for anything, no matter what you might have heard. Common clickbait titles use this gimmick to try and get people to buy weight loss supplements, but you can use it as a way to draw people into your products or solutions. The only drawback here is that it can come across as a gimmick—so be sure to explain yourself in the body of your content.
78. X Creative Ways to ____.
This goes along with the “alternative” angle I’ve mentioned a few times already. Finding creative approaches to solving problems or creative ideas in general is appealing, because it implies a break from the norm. It’s also a fun title to write (in most cases) because it forces you to think outside the box.
79. How ____ Can Be More Efficient (X Tips).
People are always striving for more efficiency. More efficient work can lead to more money, while more efficient lifestyles can lead to more satisfaction and less stress. That’s one reason why life hacks are so popular—but here, you’ll be explaining how to make something more efficient in a number of steps. These should be able to apply to anyone even close to your target demographics, so use it wisely.
80. X Perfect Examples of ____ in Action.
It’s good to talk about subjects, but sometimes it’s better to simply demonstrate them. For example, rather than writing about what makes a great music video, you could write a post containing some of your favorite music videos, and why they work. This title gives you a good platform to showcase items within your realm of expertise and offer commentary about how they do or don’t work. There’s a lot of flexibility here, so you can showcase ads, foods, performances, products, or anything else you can think of.
81. X Foolproof Tactics for ____.
You know how the For Dummies series got to be so popular? Part of the reason was the excellent content in their books, but an almost bigger reason was probably the title. Like it or not, we’re all “dummies” and “fools” about some things, even ones in our own field of expertise. Few people feel like they’ve truly mastered their respective niche, and this article title calls upon that. The tactics and tricks you present will all be “foolproof,” meaning anyone can use them to their greatest potential, which is highly appealing for novices and fools alike.
82. X Ways to ____ Without ____.
This is a pretty thin title as it stands, so as you can imagine, its power comes from what you choose to fill in. There are limitless possibilities here, but a few broad categories to consider. You could imply a danger such as “ways to stretch without hurting yourself” or imply a lack of resources such as “ways to market your business without a massive budget.” Or you could imply that this is a list of alternatives such as “ways to find leads without cold calling.” It’s a differentiator, and can be highly appealing based on your direction.
83. X Strategies to Supercharge Your ____.
I’ll be the first to admit that the word “supercharge” is buzzy, and borders on the clickbait line. However, people love the idea of taking something effective and making it even better. Supercharging implies that it’s already achieved some kind of baseline; for example, if you’re “supercharging” your social media following, you’ve already got a respectable, active following to work with. This suggests there is a “next level” to achieve, and that this guide will give you the means to achieve it.
84. X Ways You’re Sabotaging Your ____ Without Knowing It.
As we’ve seen in dozens of titles so far, it’s effective to imply that your readers don’t have the knowledge you’re about to provide. That effect is amplified when that lack of knowledge is causing active harm to something valuable to them. Self-sabotage is a real phenomenon, and can manifest in a number of ways. So how is your audience of readers sabotaging themselves? Are they failing to learn enough to move forward? Are they running with cheap, ineffective solutions?
85. The X Secrets of Successful ____s.
People look to successful individuals in all areas with a sense of grandiose admiration. These people have already done something impressive, but the simple advice of “work hard and be persistent” isn’t as appealing as the idea that there’s some kind of secret or shortcut that got them to where they are. This allure will draw readers into your post immediately, and you don’t have to worry about these being actual “secrets.” They can just be habits, pieces of knowledge, or approaches that are not commonly known.
86. X Things to Do Before You ____.
This title will help you guide users in a direction of your choosing before they take some action relevant to your brand. For example, you could tell users X things to do before buying a house, suggesting they contact a real estate agent (you or your contact). Or you could tell users X things to do before starting a workout regimen, suggesting they work with a personal trainer (you or your contact). The sequence of steps here is informative, and seems highly significant to the average outsider.
87. X Ways to Recover From ____.
Disaster can strike anywhere, whether it’s fire damage to your home or a negative ROI for your latest marketing campaign. Big disasters, small disasters, and disasters of all varieties can make you feel defeated, but there’s always a path to recovery. This title offers that path, and does so in a quantifiable number of suggestions—which is extra appealing to those dealing with stress and confusion. You could also vary this title by making it “how to recover from ____ in X steps.”
88. X Harsh Realities About ____.
Not everything in your industry is pretty, and this title instantly implies that. Listing the harsh realities about your situation, your industry, or even your brand is a way to prove your integrity, transparency, and honesty to your readers. Not all businesses are willing to disclose these less-than-perfect details, so the fact that you are instantly makes you more trustworthy. Plus, there’s something irresistible about learning the “dirty” details behind a business or industry you respect.
89. X Embarrassing ____ Mistakes You Can Learn From.
Embarrassment often triggers a sympathetic response, but it also calls upon our senses of humor. Other brands and consumers have already made some powerful mistakes, so why not take advantage of them to give your readers a good laugh (and some helpful information along the way)? Be careful who and what you list here—if you tell the embarrassing story of someone who takes it personally, they could go after you—but otherwise, try to have some fun here.
90. Are You Ready for ____? Here’s How to Tell.
There’s always something to look forward to, in every industry, in every community, and in every subject. It could be a convention or gathering, a new technology coming out, or a fundamental change in how you’re doing business. In any case, this change is accompanied by some kind of monumental shift, and your readers know it. Behind this title, your readers will find out whether or not they’re truly ready for the changes to come.
91. What Your Employees Should Know About ____.
This title is specifically targeted toward team leaders, entrepreneurs, or other professional roles responsible for managing individual employees. If that isn’t your demographic, you may wish to alter it in some way (for example, you could change “employees” to “students” or “children” without altering the main idea of the title too far). Either way, this article title implies a couple of things that draw readers in; first, that your employees don’t know something, and that this article will tell it to them. Second, that your employees should know this, increasing the perceived significance of the work.
92. What Your Boss Should Know About ____.
Again, this title’s relevance is partially dependent upon your chosen target audience. If you’re targeting employees who have bosses and supervisors, this will work fine. Otherwise, you may need to find a substitute, such as “teachers,” or “mentors.” This one has an extra appeal because there’s an incentive in presenting new information to a higher authority; not only are you providing interesting reading material, you may be helping along their careers by helping them impress their boss. If you can provide this information, these readers will be much more likely to stick around.
93. X Surprising Lessons We Learned From ____.
The blank here is an open gateway to almost anything you can imagine. Maybe it’s an event your company attended. Maybe it’s a current event in that national news. Maybe it’s an experiment your company performed. There are only a few stipulations here; the blank must be recent, it must have given you some new information, and of course, it must be relevant to your audience. From there, you’ll come up with surprising lessons you didn’t expect to learn; this can help you pique the interest of readers who have already heard about your “blank.”
94. What’s the Best Way to ____?
The magic of this title is that it implies there’s a best way to do something. The very first entry in this list was a “how to” post, which can tell you how to approach a given task (let’s say cutting a pineapple). It may get the job done, but is it the most efficient way to do it? Is it the fastest? Is it the easiest? The word “best” implies that this is somehow better than the “normal” way, and therefore has mass appeal for readers. But you can also substitute almost any superlative here for the same effect; i.e., the “simplest way to cut pineapple.”
95. What ____s Get Wrong About ____.
Here, the first blank is going to fill in with your target demographic; this gives you the opportunity to speak directly to your audience, not to mention optimizing for related keywords. The second blank is going to refer to your main area of expertise (or your current target). People are enthralled by their own identities, and if you imply that they’re doing something wrong in their own area of expertise, they won’t be able to resist clicking through to find out.
96. X Huge Influencers in the ____ World.
Even though you might have established an impressive reputation in your niche community, you aren’t the only influencer out there. People love to see different influencers because they need different perspectives, different viewpoints, and even different voices to get a complete experience. That’s why this simple list post can be so effective; all you have to do is identify some key influencers in your industry and list them out—or if you want to get fancy, you can hit them up for some quotes that best represent their opinions on a given subject.
97. A Timeline on ____.
There’s nothing psychologically special or subtle about this headline, which is a big reason why it works; it simply lets readers know they’re about to see a timeline on a given subject. This implies it’s a start-to-finish history on a given subject, explored in some graphic or visual way, which readers always love to see. You could easily turn this post into an infographic and reap even greater rewards.
98. What Would Happen If ____?
Depending on your industry and target audience, this could be an immensely fun post to write. AlternateHistoryHub has developed its entire brand around providing information on alternative histories. The NFL has a fun video series dubbed “N ‘if’ L” that explores alternate realities about players, games, teams, injuries, and the like. You could also approach this as present-day experimenting; what would happen if your customers suddenly did something to their cars? The what-if model is appealing because it strikes a chord with our imaginations. It forces readers to come up with a hypothesis before clicking through, and encourages them to see if it’s right.
99. What ____’s Top Influencers Say About ____.
Remember what I said about influencers? Here’s your chance to call upon them again. Only this time, instead of listing them, you’ll be interviewing them briefly on the subject of your choice. This is a fantastic opportunity if there’s a new technology or an emerging trend in your industry that your peers are worried about. Gather up a bunch of quotes on the matter from some of the most respected influencers you can find, and if you can, try to hit the problem from multiple different angles.
100. X Statistics on ____ You Need to Know.
People love to read—and cite—statistics relevant to their interests. They tend to be objective, enlightening, and hard to obtain, which makes them valuable. But you don’t necessarily have time to conduct all that original research on your own, so the next best thing is to round up statistics from a bunch of other sources and collect them together into one, convenient document. The “need to know” in the title adds a bit of extra flair, implying extra importance for the piece.
101. What Do You Want to Read About Next?
This is less of a full-fledged article title, and more of an important post you’ll want to make to your readers eventually. You’ve spent a while looking over these last 100 suggestions for titles, but there’s an even better resource for finding new titles your readers will love—your readers themselves! Reach out and ask them what they want to read, and you’ll probably get plenty of responses to keep your content strategy moving in a solid direction.
There you have it! Like it or not, you now have zero excuses not to have a full editorial calendar. Swap out some keywords and phrases, and you can easily use each of the titles on this list multiple times over.
Assuming you’re posting twice a week, this alone can keep you going for several years—not even counting the other great creative ideas you have in the back of your mind. Dedicate yourself to ongoing refinement and new idea generation (even if you use this as a backup plan), and you’ll never run out of awesome headlines to use in your content marketing campaign.
Success in content marketing depends on creating lots of content—and not just any content. You need good content, that people want to read/watch/listen to, and you need to keep things fresh enough that they keep coming back for more. That’s a lot of pressure to come up with new ideas and new applications, and unless you’re some meta-human idea-generating machine, eventually, you’ll run into writer’s block, unable to come up with something new, cool, and exciting.
That’s why I’ve compiled this massive list of 101 content marketing ideas you can use to keep your website and/or blog running.
101 Content Ideas
Without further ado, here are 101 content ideas for your website or blog:
Ah, listicles, the marriage of ‘articles’ and ‘lists.’ Where was content marketing before the age of listicles? The premise here is simple; take a concept and turn it into a numbered list. Being able to call out a number in your headline makes the piece instantly more attention-grabbing; it implies a degree of conciseness and skimmability that’s appealing to modern web users, plus serves as a tease that piques user interest. There’s no limit to what you can apply the listicle format to; you can create “top 10” lists for items or concepts in your industry, or go the Buzzfeed route and find any excuse to throw a number in your headline.
Checklists are pretty straightforward too, though they tend to have a more practical side than listicles. Here, you’ll create a rundown of requirements for a given task or event, which users can adopt for their own personal purposes. For example, if you’re a travel company or a hotel, you might include a checklist of commonly forgotten items while traveling. If you’re an SEO agency, you might include a checklist of all the tasks you need to complete for on-site optimization. If you can make the checklist interactive by including actual check-able boxes, this is even better. It’s smart to make them printer-friendly, too. Interactivity makes any content better.
3. How-to posts.
How-to posts instruct users how to complete something, and that something can be almost anything. For example, you can walk users through the steps of changing a flat tire, how to cook a frittata, or how to tell when a sales strategy isn’t working. Here, make sure your title explains what you’re instructing clearly, and try to choose a topic that’s as specific as possible; most general how-to’s (like the three examples I gave) have been done to death. For bonus points here, make sure you include images and videos of the process. If you can’t get real photography, rely on sketches.
4. Tips and tricks.
“Tips and tricks” articles are all about providing helpful tidbits about a given subject, process, or task to readers in an effort to make their lives easier. The line here can be blurry with other forms of content; for example, you could have a listicle of tips and tricks, or a how-to post with a section of tips and tricks at the end. The point is to give your users bite-sized pieces of useful information. This whole concept, when applied to general life, has evolved to become known as “life hacks,” so feel free to use the “hack” terminology to catch some extra attention in your title.
5. Best practices.
You may also want to publish a post of best practices, which outline some bigger-picture concepts and procedures to follow for a given subject. For example, best practices for running may include keeping proper form, staying hydrated, and eating properly before and after a run. The usual problem with this type of content is that it’s general, so if you can, try to make your topic more specific to a niche audience, or drill down into one specific section of the topic you’re covering.
6. Buying guides.
Buying guides have a handful of advantages as a content type, and they come in a variety of different forms. The general purpose is to help users make an educated decision when buying a certain product; in the example below from MacRumors, the buying guide compares and contrasts different categories of Apple products to help unfamiliar users decide precisely what they need. Be sure to cover general descriptions of the products you’re covering, but also delve into top considerations; let users know what factors are most important in making a good decision here. This is especially advantageous if you’re listing products you sell on your site.
Opinion pieces are some of the most open-ended pieces of content you can produce. All you have to do is find a topic that matters to your audience, formulate an opinion on it, and write about that opinion. For example, you might come out in favor of a new technology that’s shaking up your industry, or you might list the drawbacks and consequences of a popular business strategy that isn’t frequently criticized. There are a few keys to being successful here—your opinion should be strong, well-researched, and at least somewhat debatable.
8. Prediction pieces.
Prediction pieces are similar to opinion pieces, but with a specific focus; here, you’ll attempt to make a prediction (or multiple predictions) about your industry, or a topic that’s important to your users. For example, if you’re in the automotive industry, you might predict that a certain model of car will be discontinued by a certain date, or if you’re in the culinary industry, you might predict the rise of a certain trend revolving around a specific ingredient. These tend to capture user interest because they appeal to the imagination and are future-focused.
9. Prediction follow-up pieces.
Once your prediction piece is written, you can actually capitalize on it for another powerful piece of content; the prediction follow-up. As the name suggests, this is a way to reflect on the predictions you initially made and determine whether they proved true or false—as well as why. Moz has been known to do this annually, making predictions about the coming year in SEO and evaluating the past year’s predictions, complete with a numerical ranking system. You don’t have to go that in-depth, but revisiting your predictions shows your commitment and could rejuvenate interest in your previous work.
“Why” pieces are exactly what they sound like; they’re your chance to explain the mechanics behind something specific in your industry. You have a wide diversity of potential angles to explore here; for example, you could explain “why” from a functional perspective, taking a look at what makes a product work or why a strategy is effective, or from an historical perspective, evaluating how this product evolved or how this strategy came to be what it is today. The “why” question is an especially interesting one—and a satisfying one if you’re in-depth enough with it.
11. Written tutorials.
Tutorials may seem like just another term for “how-to” posts, but while the two share a common goal—instructing a user how to do something—tutorials tend to take a more in-depth, step-by-step, “showing” approach. In a written tutorial, you’ll have some difficulty establishing this level of immersion. Depending on the subject matter you’re covering, you’ll need to go into special detail to make sure your message is understood; for example, merely describing what the inside of a clock looks like won’t be nearly as effective as demonstrating a visual. Be sure to include photos and illustrations, or change forms to a video tutorial instead.
12. Video tutorials.
Video tutorials are a bit more difficult to produce, just because they require some camera work and editing, but they’re generally more powerful forms of instruction, since users can see exactly what you’re doing. Throughout the video, make sure you keep the camera focused on the action, but don’t just go through the steps—take your time narrating everything you’re doing, and clearly so that users can understand. In fact, it might be a good idea to include both a video and written version of your tutorial to help audiences with preferences for either one. Punished Props has built a successful Youtube brand around video tutorials on how to make realistic-looking costumes, weapons, and armor.
13. What not to do.
“What not to do” posts can be fun to write. They function as a practical opposite to “best practice posts,” outlining some of the worst choices or strategies you can follow in a given subject. For example, in the realm of link building, you might focus on black hat tactics like sneaking links into forum comments or participating in link exchanges and other schemes. Depending on the severity of the consequences in your particular field, you could turn this into a cautionary tale, or make it humorous. Either one can be made more powerful with the inclusion of specific examples.
14. Mistake analysis.
Mistake analysis posts are similar to “what not to do,” except rather than outlining general “worst practices,” they delve into one specific error in an attempt to figure out what went wrong. For example, if you’re a marketing agency, you might have a client whose ROI plummeted before they met you; your mistake analysis post could explain how you went about figuring out the root cause, as well as the steps you took to correct it. In this way, mistake analysis posts can serve as both “what not to do” pieces and helpful tutorials.
15. Myth dispelling.
There are myths, misconceptions, and false assumptions surrounding practically every industry. Being in the SEO industry, I’ve been exposed to quite a few of these myself, such as people still believing that link building is a dangerous strategy or following keyword-stuffing strategies that haven’t been relevant since 2011. Talk to your customers and see what your competitors are posting about—odds are, sooner or later, you’ll come across some persistent myths about how your industry works. Gather them up and work on dispelling them in a single post; just make sure you back up your claims with specific examples or hard evidence.
Quizzes are a fun, interactive way to engage your users, and they offer more user participation than most of the other entries on this list. If you need more users participating on your site, this is a good bet to see higher rates. When you think of content quizzes, your mind might turn to popular “which [fictional franchise] character are you?” quizzes on Facebook; and while you can use these, you can also go a more customer-focused route, such as exploring a topic like, “are you saving enough for retirement?” or “is it time to update the design of your website?” Make the quiz short and easy to take, and if you can, leave users with some call to action.
Calculators are like simplified, numerically-based versions of quizzes. Here, you’ll ask users for a selection of information regarding a subject, and you’ll produce an answer that gives them meaningful data to move forward with. In the example below, users can enter their projected home costs and interest rates to calculate how much they’ll pay per month in a mortgage, but you can design a calculator for almost anything. You can even embed a calculator in one of your other blog posts to make it more functional or more immediately practical for your readers; there are many WordPress plugins that allow you to do this.
Through the process of gamification, you can turn almost anything into a game, or create a game for your users. You can make this purely fun, such as making a game out of a task associated with your business; if you’re a retail store, you could post about a scavenger hunt your shoppers can play in your store. You could also make it more instructional, such as presenting a complex strategy in a game format to help users understand it on a more instinctual, conceptual level. As usual, this can be as casual or as in-depth as you’re willing to make it.
19. Regular series features.
This is a beneficial approach because it allows you to generate multiple posts on a conceptual level simultaneously; it’s also powerful for your audience because it gives them something consistent and relatively predictable to look forward to. As you consistently execute your work, your readers will become more and more invested, leaving you with higher rates of engagement and, eventually, returns. Take the series approach to some of your other post ideas; for example, you could find a mistake to analyze every week as part of your “this week’s biggest blunder” series or explore a different use for your core product every week with your “how to use ____” series.
20. Schematics and blueprints.
Though your tutorials and “why” posts might briefly explore the inner workings of your core products (or other items related to your industry), it’s more powerful to see it outlined visually. Include detailed schematics outlining what your product of choice is made out of, and offer written explanations for why it is the way it is. It’s a good way to circulate more information about how your products actually work, and will certainly appeal to any engineers in your crowd.
21. Flow charts.
Flow charts are interactive visual creations that help guide users through some kind of process, usually related to a decision. Each node on the chart provides a user with a branched set of options, followed by more nodes which lead the user further down the chart. You can use a chart like this to help guide them through a buying decision, such as deciding which model to go with, or have more fun with it. For example, you can use a flow chart to lead a user into a punchline or poke fun at the complexities of your industry.
With templates, your job is to provide a basic outline or representative set of content that users can then leverage for their own purposes. For example, if you’re helping your clients develop a social media strategy, you might provide them with a sample outline of a strategy that they can modify for their own needs. Depending on the nature of your template and what your customers actually need, you can provide these in a few different ways. Most notably, you can offer them as downloadable PDFs, which users can then print, savable documents and spreadsheets, which are editable on local devices, or embed the template directly into your post.
Worksheets are similar to templates, but they serve a more specific purpose, and allow the user to work through some kind of problem. For example, a template for a social media strategy might give the user starting points for outlining their goals and objectives, but a worksheet would allow a user to work through the brainstorming and planning process that leads them to those conclusions. Worksheets often feature questions that force a user to think through a specific problem, such as “how many customers do you currently have?” and may also include quiz or calculator elements. Again, you can make this printable with a PDF or editable with a digital file.
Infographics exploded in popularity when they first started gaining momentum as a content medium a few years ago, and it’s no mystery why. Infographics visually represent data, which makes them aesthetically appealing, informative, interesting, and best of all—easy to share (as long as they’re executed correctly). They were once powerhouses for generating links and shares, but because they became so popular so fast, users began to grow tired of seeing the same infographic tropes over and over again. If you’re going to do an infographic, make sure it’s a topic really worth exploring, and present it in an original, interesting way. Check out this infographic-based infographic for a quick rundown on how you can do it:
Comics are extremely easy or extremely hard to make, depending on who you ask and what kind of mood they’re in. If you want to get involved, paneled, illustrated storytelling can be a deep and immersive way to present a complex idea or present a sophisticated idea of humor. But if you’re looking for something to create quickly, you can also make something simple using rudimentary stick-figure skills. The goal is to present something in both a written and visual format, and preferably in a way that users can either engage with directly or share. Humor’s a big win for comics—but they don’t have to be humorous to be effective. WaitButWhy.com’s Tim Urban is a master of using comics within his content. You can see one of my favorites in this post.
Memes are even easier to generate. Now, the actual definition of a meme is an idea that evolves and distributes itself, much like a gene in the evolutionary sense. But since its coinage by Internet dwellers, it has since evolved (ironically) to refer to any image macros, colloquial phrases, or in-jokes that circulate virally, usually due to some kind of humorous element. Oftentimes, this includes placing text over a person’s image, but it doesn’t have to; you can hijack an existing meme or create one of your own to add a bit of flair to your post. If you need help, you can seek out a meme generator online.
It’s hard to take sketches or illustrations and make them standalone pieces of content in their own right, but they serve as excellent ways to complement a piece that already exists. For example, if you’re working on a written tutorial and you don’t have any photos, you can use illustrations to better communicate your intentions and descriptions. You could also use sketches to present ideas before they’re fully baked, as a way of teasing your audience regarding your final design. Remember, it’s helpful to have a skilled professional designer working on these, but it’s not necessary.
Photography is another visual medium you can use to gain visibility for your content marketing campaign, and there are a few different ways to harness its potential. If you have a professional photographer, or a standout image that says something significant about your brand or your audience, you can use it as a standalone piece –perhaps with a thoughtful caption. If they’re of a lesser quality, or if they don’t have that much impact, you can use them to supplement an existing piece. Again, these pair excellently with how-to articles and tutorials, but don’t be afraid to show off with just photos and some accompanying captions.
29. Aggregated images.
If you don’t feel like doing any writing, or producing any new images on your own, you can offer a kind of compilation of images you’ve collected previously. The best part is, they can come from any of the image-based categories I briefly recapped over the past few entries. For example, you can create a post about your “10 favorite infographics” from the industry, or highlight some of the “best photography” from a recent tradeshow or industry-related event.
30. Aggregated videos.
In the same way you aggregate images, you can also aggregate videos—even some of your own. For example, you can create a kind of YouTube playlist of some of the most influential videos in your industry, or you can embed your most popular videos in one collective post. It’s still a good idea to annotate them in some way, for SEO purposes as well as giving users a preview of what they’re about to see.
31. Illustrated videos.
Simple monologue videos can be effective, especially if you’re explaining a complex topic or having a conversation with your audience (more on that in subsequent entries). However, you can take it to the next level of aesthetic appeal and interactivity by including some illustrated elements. For example, you can use a whiteboard to make doodles that represent what you’re talking about, or you can make sketches in advance and use them at key points during your talk. For a good example of how this can be done in a fun, engaging, and branded way, check out Minute Physics’s video series about physics-related concepts. This doesn’t have to be exceptionally complex or involved to be effective.
32. Video graphics.
Video graphics are essentially the animated versions of infographics. Rather than hosting a stagnant collection of visual data bits, you’ll have the freedom to animate them; for example, you can have your bar charts grow into life, or gradually reveal a list of top entries, one by one. This format is far more original and engaging, and there will be less competition clamoring for attention here. However, the flip side is that it takes more time and expertise to develop. Unless you have a basic concept and mode of execution, you’ll need a video specialist or at least a graphic designer to help you execute this work.
33. Regular video series.
Much like your written post series, you can have a regular video series as well, and the sky’s the limit when it comes to topic potential. Releasing a new video on a regular interval will help you earn more YouTube subscribers, and generate more ongoing attention for your brand. You can even create a specific channel (or sub-channel) dedicated exclusively to that series. Have the same personal brand hosting the video every week, and you’ll have an instant recipe for greater reader loyalty. Consider exploring the pros and cons of a given tactic or topic every week, or visually showcasing something about your business.
34. Demo videos.
You could also use the video marketing approach to show off the products and/or services that you want your customers to buy in the first place. You’ll have to be careful here, because there’s a fine line between this type of content marketing and straight-up advertising, and if you cross that line, you’ll fail to build an audience. Remember, your goal in content marketing is to give your users something valuable, so make sure the potential customers can walk away from your demo videos with some new information or a fun experience—even if they don’t end up buying from you. If you have fun products, like toys, this is easy; otherwise, you’ll have to get creative.
If your business hosts regular events, or if you plan on attending events in the future, hosting an updating calendar on your site is a great way to generate more content and keep your users informed. Try to include a brief description of each entry on your calendar, both to inform your users and to optimize for search engines; you can even use a Schema markup to increase the chances of getting featured in a Knowledge Graph entry. If you don’t have a calendar on your site, you can do a month-by-month entry in your blog.
You can also use timelines as an interactive, visual way to project the history of your company (or of your industry). This is especially effective if you’ve been around for a while, such as manufacturers that have been around for decades. Show off the major events that helped shape your industry and your business into what it is today. The unfortunate thing about timelines is that you can’t rely on them for an ongoing series; once you cover most of the major events of the past, you’ve already tapped them, and you’ll have to move on. However, you can also have timelines projecting into the future, charting out your company (or industry) goals, vision, and predictions.
37. Charts and graphs.
Charts and graphs are ideal ways to help your users visualize otherwise hard-to-approach data points; you may have already included some in your infographics and video graphics. Make sure you’re including these in an image format, so your users can share and cite them (and include a watermark to ensure you get credit for your work). It’s best if you use these charts and graphs to represent original data you’ve researched yourself, but you can use them for outside sources of data, or you can use them to illustrate general concepts. This post at WaitButWhy.com is chock-full of charts and graphs, and is an excellent example of how to illustrate the points being made.
38. Industry news.
If you want to become known as an industry authority, you need to post your thoughts and opinions about the latest news in the industry. Start by subscribing to influential blogs and forums, and networking with other influencers in the industry. When you see a story that piques your interest, news-jack it by presenting the facts of the story (in your own words, of course), followed up with your own reactions and opinions. Doing so will build your reputation, and provide you with easy material for ongoing content work. Even if your industry isn’t one that updates or changes often, it’s unlikely you’ll run out of material anytime soon here.
39. Local news.
Industry news stories aren’t the only ones you can news-jack for your own purposes, especially if you’re pursuing a local SEO campaign. But even if you don’t consider yourself a “local” business, there are some real advantages to noting, sharing, and repurposing local news stories; you’ll gain more relevance in your chosen area, and you’ll connect on a deeper level to the population there. You may even learn of new opportunities for promotion, such as finding local events that need new speakers or discussion leaders.
40. National news.
Taking things one level further, you can also capitalize on national and international news stories for your news-jacking efforts. This is especially powerful if you select topics that are at least marginally relevant to your industry or your customers; for example, with the launch of a new technology, you could post about the possibilities it holds for your industry.
41. Influencer interviews.
You’re probably already aware of the benefits that influencers have when promoting and distributing your content, but don’t underestimate the power they have when collaborating with you on a shared piece. One of the best ways to collaborate is in an interview format; you can ask your chosen influencer a series of questions about your industry and their opinions on it, and the two of you can mutually benefit from the exposure. Chances are, your interviewee will be just as likely to share the published piece (especially if it’s available in different formats). Beyond that, you can even reuse some of your initial questions in future interviews, saving you work on similar content in the future.
42. Staff and leadership interviews.
Interviews are powerful forms of content, but they don’t have to be exclusive to industry influencers. You can also look inside your organization to find people to interview, such as your CEO, or heads of various departments in your business. Ask them about their positions, including what they do for the organization, as well as their thoughts on the industry and where they see the business going from here. Your focus should be on providing valuable insights for your audience, but this is also a good chance to show off the personalities and talent that make up your business.
43. Public debates.
You can use your blog as a platform for debate in a number of different ways. For starters, you can use it as a way to list the pros and cons of each side of an argument, much in the same way that ProCon.org does for major and controversial political issues (see my example below). If you’re feeling a little bolder, or if you already have a strong stance on a given issue, you can post your side of the debate and invite commenters and audience members to debate you on the issue. In yet another application, you can pit two industry influencers against each other by giving them the opportunity to hash it out on your blog.
Roundtable discussions are a bit like a debate, and a bit like an interview. In them, you’ll invite a number of different influencers in your industry to openly discuss a series of topics, especially if they have a bearing on your future development. There are a few different ways to host this, but one of the best is to collect them all in the same room and ask them group and individual questions, making sure everyone gets equal time to make points and share their sides. This is especially useful for exploring a topic thoroughly, and usually does a good job of generating discussion afterward.
45. Company news.
Don’t forget that you can use your blog (or perhaps a news section) to announce major points of company news; these are excellent opportunities to write up and syndicate press releases, so why shouldn’t you also host that information on your site? It’s a good way to let your audience know what you’ve been up to (as well as where you plan to go from here). Just make sure what you’re posting about is truly relevant, such as moves, rebranding efforts, new products, or major changes to your offerings.
46. Questions and answers.
You can also collect a series of common customer or user questions and answer them, one by one. This is especially powerful if you answer questions that were posed by actual users, either in the comments sections of previous posts or from social media followers. Whenever you hear an interesting question, flag it and write it down—that way, you can draw up a collective post with all of them at a later date. As a side note, this is an excellent strategy for optimizing for long-tail keywords.
47. Comment follow-ups.
Pay close attention to what your users are saying in your comments sections, as well as how they’re responding on social media. As you saw in the last content idea, this is an excellent way to mine for user questions that you can subsequently answer, but you can also use other comments as jumping-off points for new posts. For example, let’s say you wrote an article about SEO and a user told a brief story about his/her bad experience with an inexperienced SEO agency; you can reach out to this user to get permission, then use that story as the basis for a new post.
48. User-requested features.
Comments, social media, and user surveys are excellent ways to figure out what your followers and fans want to read next. You can ask them directly what types of content and topics they’d like to see in the future, and they’ll probably tell you. Some will probably come to you with topics without even being prompted. These are golden opportunities for development, handed to you on a silver platter. Don’t pass them up; you know your users want to see it, so give it to them.
49. Whiteboard sessions.
The “whiteboard” trend is one that’s caught on with a ton of businesses, who usually sport regular whiteboard sessions to brainstorm something, explore a complex topic, or otherwise illustrate something that isn’t easily articulated with words alone. The whiteboard comes into play as a simple and convenient way to make illustrations, recap points, and hold users’ attentions. One of the most popular examples of this is Moz’s Whiteboard Friday series, hosted by Rand Fishkin as he explores some significant topic in the SEO world. There’s no right or wrong way to host a whiteboard session, so tap your creativity.
You can also create PowerPoint or slide presentations to share with your audience; this is especially cost-efficient if you created these decks for a real-life presentation opportunity and get to reuse them as collateral for your content marketing campaign. Be careful how you present these, though; it’s wise to offer some means of interaction, allowing users to click through your slides on your site, but you’ll also want to offer a downloadable version in PPT or PDF format.
Podcasts are seeing a resurgence in popularity, though they never really fell out of style. Done in an audio format, it’s typical for brands and hosts to produce content on a weekly, or at least a predictably regular basis. However, one-off productions aren’t uncommon either. Your podcast can include discussions, interviews, or even just extended monologues, but you’ll need to get creative if you want to hold listeners’ attention spans for an extended period of time with just your voice. If you want to build an audience of loyal listeners, make sure you’re using a powerful voice, consistent each time, with decent recording equipment.
52. Origin posts.
People are often curious about the origins of the products, services, and even trends. Content that explains the origins of these objects of fascination, then, are powerful opportunities to gain public favor. Take a moment to explain how your founder came up with the idea for the business, or how your top-selling product evolved from just the spark of an idea to the form it exists in today. You can even examine a current trend in your target audience, and trace it back to its main point of origin. You’ll need to do your research here, but it’s worth the extra effort.
53. Case studies.
Case studies can sometimes border on that line between content marketing and advertising (or maybe sales in this case), so if you want to use them as strong features for your content campaign, make sure they’re focused on practical takeaways for your users. There are a few different kinds of case studies you can develop, the most common being one developed around a customer or client you did work for, examining where they were before you got involved, what you did, and where they are today. But you could also do a case study on a separately existing enterprise, such as a case study on why the Coca-Cola brand continues to be so successful.
54. Hypothetical studies.
Hypothetical studies are similar to case studies, but they don’t need to be grounded in reality. One of the strongest selling points of the case study is that it’s based on real-world events, so if you’re going to go the hypothetical route, you better have a good point to make. The ideal scenario here is to frame your work in the context of a narrative; introduce a fictional brand or fictional person, and go into detail describing the events this character runs into. Take advantage of a branching narrative here; since you aren’t grounded in actual events, you can take the story in multiple directions at once.
If you’ve been in business for longer than a few months and you have some clients under your belt, it shouldn’t be too hard to ask for testimonials. However, turning testimonials into a full-fledged blog post presents a couple of challenges. You could ask for a super long testimonial from a user, essentially having them write a post on your behalf, but that’s intrusive, and they may not write what you want them to write. You could also aggregate multiple testimonials into one post, but that can come across as annoyingly self-promotional. Use your best judgment here, and as always, focus on what your audience would like to see, not what will make you look good.
56. Incoming guest posts.
Of course, if you’re looking for someone else to do some of the work for you, you could always open your website to guest posts. There are millions of active bloggers out there, and many of them are interested in guest posting opportunities. Chances are, all it will take is a post on social media or your website asking for submissions from new guest authors, and you’ll start to receive queries and submissions. It will still take some work to get what you’re actually looking for; you can do this by asking for very specific types of content from specific types of people, or by sorting through the posts yourself, and revising them to fit your brand.
57. Influencer quote round-ups.
People love a good quote. A powerful quote can inspire you or motivate you in your daily work, show you an alternative perspective, or simply teach you something in a concise, immediate way. If you’re looking for a way to resonate with your audience and demonstrate your authority in the industry, work on collecting quotes from various influencers in your niche and assemble them into a single post on a topic. Be sure to credit your influencers and thank them for their participation, too.
If you don’t feel like going the influencer route, it may be easier and more generally relevant to seek notable quotes from authors, celebrities, politicians, and other notable personalities that happen to fit a certain topic within your industry. For example, if you’re writing about what it takes to run your own business, you might draw from entrepreneurs, or if you’re writing about how to better communicate with clients, you can draw quotes from people talking about the power of conversation. BrainyQuote is a great resource here.
59. Book reviews.
Book reviews are always a good excuse to read a book; I always encourage other entrepreneurs and professionals to read as much as possible. No matter what you read, the activity will improve your vocabulary and expand your perspective, so you have a lot to gain by reading regularly. After you finish a good book your audience might like, post a short review about it. This doesn’t have to be a critical essay; just post a short summary of the book and what you thought of it. You’ll improve your brand reputation by showing you’re well-read, you’ll do your audience a favor, and you might even win some favor from the authors you choose to read.
60. Product reviews.
As another type of review, you can review products you use in your daily life—so long as it’s relevant for your brand. Some bloggers have established their entire reputation by writing up reviews on products in a specific category, such as tech devices or types of food. You don’t have to change your niche to take advantage of this; just keep your reviews to products that you use in the industry, or ones that may be especially important to your audience. However, make sure you disclose any compensation you may have gotten to write the review.
61. Comparison reviews.
Comparison reviews are a kind of hybrid between product reviews and buyer’s guides (which I covered earlier in this list). Here, your job will still be to review products, but this time you’ll be reviewing multiple products in the same category as they relate to one another. For example, you might list all the benefits of one product because they compensate for the disadvantages of another. It’s best to pursue this in a side-by-side format that allows readers to make judgments and comparisons at a glance, such as in a grid that highlights the main features of each, relating to subcategories.
62. Extended metaphors.
Extended metaphors are awesome opportunities for businesses that are hard to understand, or businesses that are less “fun” than others. For example, the manufacturing industry tends to be, for lack of a better word, boring, and certain tech subjects tend to be confusing and jargon-y for users. Metaphors allow you to bypass the conventional ways of talking about these things and present them in a new context—one that’s more playful and easier to understand. For example, instead of talking about two systems connecting via an integration point, you can liken them to two people having a conversation. Get creative here, but try not to mix too many metaphors together.
Storytelling has become a buzzword in the content marketing community, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective as a device to appeal to customers. Stories are natural and powerful constructs for human beings; we pay more attention and retain more information when facts or ideas are presented to us in a story format, which is why books, movies, and TV shows make up the majority of our pop culture. Almost anything can be told in the form of a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and a central character (even if that character is an inanimate object). You can tell stories on their own, or weave them into a metaphor, or even use them as one-off examples to prove a point in a different context.
64. Survey results.
Surveys are great ways to collect meaningful information on an audience, or about an industry. Use a platform like Typeform to come up with some quantitative and qualitative questions and submit them to your influencers, customers, or vendors (depending on your intentions). After getting your desired level of participation, you can collect and aggregate the results to form meaningful conclusions—such as about the future of the industry, the zeitgeist of your target demographics, or even popular opinions on a given subject. Present both the raw data and your personal conclusions for your audience.
65. Quantitative study results.
One of the most powerful forms of content you can make is the presentation of original research; you can guarantee nobody else has done it before, and you’ll present valuable information that your audience wants to see. This combination makes it a perfect way to attract shares and likes, ultimately boosting your domain authority and brand reputation. Depending on how intensive your efforts were, I recommend using charts, graphs, and maybe even infographics to depict your results, but you’ll also want to treat it like a scientific experiment; present your method, explain your results, and discuss the potential for the future.
People like other people more than they like other brands, so don’t be afraid to get personal with your audience; they’ll appreciate your sincerity, and will be more likely to trust your brand as a result. Tell a personal anecdote as a lead-in to a point, or simply tell it because you think your audience will like it. For example, you might recall seeing something interesting on the highway on your drive into work, and explain how it gave you a revelation about your business. Funny stories work well here, as well as anything that’s surprising or entertaining.
67. Statistics round-ups.
Original research is ideal, but it takes lots of time and resources to execute, and people still love statistics. So instead of conducting your own research every time, consider creating a kind of “statistics round-up,” where you collect important bits of information and takeaways from other research studies and present them in a more convenient, bite-sized way. It’s a perfect opportunity to get social shares, and you can even use it for your own purposes depending on the nature of the stats. Pew Research Center is a fantastic resource here—just be sure to cite whoever’s statistics you borrowed properly.
68. Tool lists.
No matter what industry you’re in, there are some tools your audience should be using to help them make better purchasing decisions, or just live their lives easier. You can collect a list of different tools for this purpose, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each and personally recommending some of your favorites. For example, you might recommend some online calculators, management and efficiency tools, or other types of software.
69. Resource lists.
Strikingly similar to the tool lists you’ve generated, you can create resource lists to help connect your readers to the assets, guides, and establishments that can help them in their endeavors. For example, if you cater to entrepreneurs, you might connect them to networking events, resource centers, or startup incubators. Don’t be afraid to look for offline resources as well as online ones.
70. Influencer and author lists.
No matter how good your content marketing strategy is, there are probably dozens of authors and influencers doing a better job than you are. This is a reality of the content marketing industry, but it isn’t anything to be intimidated by. Instead, you can capitalize on their abilities to boost your own on-site posts. Similar to how you collected tools and resources for your audience, you can collect a pool of influencers and authors they should be following; not only will your audience appreciate this, you’ll also earn the favor of the influencers you include in your list.
71. Sneak peeks.
If your business develops new products or refines its services regularly, you can use it as an opportunity to give your readers a sneak peek of your new material. This is effective because it shows your readers that you’re working on new things and simultaneously rewards them for following you close enough to notice. The key to effectiveness here is to actually tease your audience—give them just enough information to pique their interest, but not so much that it spoils any surprises. For example, you could announce that you’re coming out with a new update to your software that introduces an intuitive new interface, but don’t reveal exactly what that interface will look like. When you fully release the feature, you can do a more in-depth review of it.
72. Industry history.
I already mentioned the possibility of creating timelines for your industry and company, but you can also delve deeper into the development of your industry as an in-depth feature. Rather than focusing on the surface-level highlights, you’ll take a dive into the motivating factors and influencers that helped shape your industry into the state it’s in today. For example, you could talk about rises and falls at significant points in time, and possibly even project how the industry is going to grow from here, taking some influence from “prediction” posts I mentioned way back at the beginning.
You don’t actually have to reveal any secrets to reveal industry “secrets” to your audience. The goal here is to find facts about your industry that your audience doesn’t know—or misunderstands. For example, you could reveal that the majority of products are actually assembled from components manufactured off-site, or you could explain that most content marketers are flying by the seats of their pants, building a strategy as they go rather than knowing exactly what they’re doing from the beginning. You can use this to produce an attention grabbing headline like “X secrets the industry doesn’t want you to know”—just try not to verge too far into clickbait territory.
This option is best reserved for startups, and businesses that are undergoing heavy development. The idea here is to make periodic updates about the status of your development for your readers to follow. For example, if you’re developing a piece of software, you can announce when you’ve completed development on each of your key features, explain when you’ve started testing and how those tests go, and keep updating your audience about a potential release. This is especially powerful for businesses currently running a crowdfunding campaign, or other businesses that rely on readers and followers for ongoing support.
75. Staff highlights.
I’ll say it again; people love to see other people, far more than they want to see corporate brands. Consider putting the spotlight on some of the individual team members who make up your company, especially if you’re a small business. You can stage it as an interview format, but take it in a more personal direction than you would with an industry influencer or a leader within your organization. Let your team members explain who they are, what their area of expertise is, and why they’ve chosen to work for your brand. It will showcase your brand’s personality and attract better, more personable clients.
76. A day in the office.
Following these lines, you could also showcase what a day in your office is like, or factory, or any other physical location that’s important to your business. For example, you could use photo and video to show off your production equipment and how your products are made, or you could give your patrons an inside look at what your kitchen looks like, where you prepare their food. Just make sure you have everything clean and in order before you start giving potential clients an impression on what your place actually looks like. Elon Musk’s tour of SpaceX is a great example of how to do this.
You have tons of options when it comes to eBooks. Essentially, they’re just longer versions of blog posts you might be making anyway; for example, if a traditional post would cover tips and tricks for developing a sales strategy, the eBook version would be a comprehensive guide on building a strategy from start to finish. There’s no rule when it comes to length or format, but generally, you should aim for 10,000 words or more, in a PDF format with plenty of graphics to make it easy to read and follow. Once created, you have many options with eBooks; you can use them as an exchange for users’ personal information with a dedicated landing page, offer them as free resources for your site visitors, or even sell them outright to make a bit of revenue on the side.
78. Audio books.
Audio books are a straightforward concept, and in most cases are just a way to transform the medium of an existing book; for example, once you’ve created your eBook and started distributing it, you can record a member of your team reading the book aloud and use that audio file as an additional piece of content to offer your readers. Like with podcasts, make sure you’re using high-quality recording equipment and speaking strongly and clearly.
Whitepapers have a broad definition, so don’t feel pressured into using them in any one specific way. They’re generally longer than blog posts, but shorter and less involved than eBooks, and they tend to cover one specific topic in significant detail. Oftentimes, marketers use whitepapers to publish the results of their original research or experiments, as a traditional blog post doesn’t always offer enough room for suitable exploration. It’s generally a best practice to offer whitepapers as downloadable PDFs, though you can host them for online perusal as well for the SEO benefits.
Polls can be used as small-time surveys; you’ll pose a question (or series of questions) to your readers as a main post, and allow them to vote on their preference. You can do something serious with this, such as allowing your readers to choose your next eBook topic, or have more fun with it, such as asking them how they feel about a recent news story and providing ridiculous possible answers. After voting, you can show your users the results of the poll and encourage a discussion about the results.
Contests are an excellent way to drive visibility of and engagement with your brand; offering some kind of reward for participation naturally incentivizes people to take action, and because contests often involve a social element, it’s natural for your participants to quickly spread the word about your campaign. Even if your contests are primarily occurring on social media, it’s a good idea to write up a content post about your contest, going over the full rules and what users can expect, as well as clearing up any potential points of misunderstanding and explaining your motivation for hosting the contest in the first place.
Webinars are an entire content medium, so you can use them however you want, but most webinars are used as teaching tools. Generally, a webinar host will lead a discussion on a given topic, giving a slide presentation and speaking audibly, or opting for full-on video. Generally, the format involves a “teaching” segment, like a monologue, with audience members sitting quietly, followed by a “Q and A” segment, where the host makes him/herself available to answer questions from participants. If you end up doing a webinar, make sure you announce it a few weeks in advance, with regular reminders to sign up, and do a dry run before going live with your presentation. You’ll also want to make the webinar available to view or download after you’re done with the live version.
83. Streaming event video.
Speaking of live versions, streaming video has rocketed in popularity in recent months, thanks in part to platforms like Facebook attempting to push Facebook Live to users. Attend a local event, or an industry event, and live stream a speaker or significant event there; live video is popular because it allows users to feel like they’re experiencing something by proxy, and your broadcast of the event will give your audience eyes and ears at the event.
84. Streaming interactive video.
If you want to take advantage of the live streaming video trend but you don’t have an upcoming event, you can also simply live stream a monologue or your thoughts about a recent development. Even better, you can turn it into an interactive event by getting your followers and participants to ask you questions during your session. Periscope offers a good way to this. Pay attention to what people are asking, and try to keep the conversational flow moving. This is difficult to practice, but over time, you’ll get better at it.
85. Thought experiments.
Thought experiments are like hypothetical scenarios, which I mentioned earlier, but they’re distinct because of their prerequisites. With hypothetical scenarios, you’ll use a fictional story or sequence of events to illustrate a concept, such as imagining a narrative that demonstrates how one of your strategies might play out. With thought experiments, you’ll be testing the validity of a certain idea; this is best reserved for service-based industries or ones with more conceptual forms of work, but it can be a powerful way to prove or disprove the feasibility of an idea.
86. User chats.
Similar to how you used live streaming video to engage with your users, you could also host a user chat for a given period of time. If your website has a forum that allows user participation, sign yourself up as a user and lead a discussion during this time period. Invite any and all questions and comments as they come in, and try to facilitate discussions between users as much as you engage with users directly. This will help foster a community around your brand, and will only have positive effects for your overall brand loyalty.
87. Before and after posts.
Before and after posts are ideal if you’re working with clients looking for some kind of transformation; for example, if you’re in the branding and web design industry, you can post (with permission) images and screenshots from a client’s current setup, then follow up with your finished work some time later. This is obviously most effective when done side-by-side, but there’s also an advantage in posting the “before” status in real time, making users anticipate what comes next. It also serves as a veiled case study, showing off your expertise and capabilities.
Most industries operate on basic “theories” that dictate how things operate on a conceptual level. For example, in photography the “rule of thirds” is a popular way to frame photos to be more aesthetically pleasing. You can write up a post exploring one or more of these theories, analyzing why they exist, how they can be improved, and if they’ll ever be replaced. If there are multiple competing theories on a single topic or principle, this is a good opportunity to compare and contrast them.
89. Inspiration posts.
Inspiration posts are simply meant to inspire or motivate your audience. While effective, these posts aren’t practical for all industries and businesses. For example, if you sell culinary ingredients, you can post recipes and concoctions that inspire chefs, or if you sell art supplies, you can post artistic ideas, or if you own a gym, you can post workout routines and success stories. This is open-ended, and not for everyone, but it is a possibility worth considering.
90. Ask me anything sessions.
“Ask me anything” (AMA) is a mode of online conversation and engagement popularized by Reddit. In the mode, a user—typically someone of interest like a celebrity, or someone who has done something extraordinary—fields questions from online forum users in an effort to increase knowledge (and possibly entertain). This is best done with a strong personal brand within your organization, such as your founder, your CEO, or a leader of one of your main departments.
91. Help content.
Help content deviates a bit from the norm of “traditional” content marketing, in that it helps users who have already become customers navigate your products and services. For example, if you sell time management software as a service, your traditional content strategy might focus on productivity tips and helping workers improve their efficiency, but your help content might help users understand how to better use your platform. This is a good way to improve user retention (not to mention easing the burden on your customer service department), and you’ll get some amazing SEO benefits too.
A frequently asked questions (FAQ) section of your website can also serve as an excellent opportunity for content development. It can be used by your existing customers, much like your help content, or be consulted by visitors who are almost ready to buy from you. The more thorough you are here, the more potential customers you’ll be able to please; try to make it as easy to navigate as possible, including a search function to get users exactly what they’re looking for faster.
93. 101 Guides.
Not everybody is on the same level of familiarity with your industry, your brand, or your products and services. Even though you might understand your target market well and focus on visitors who are at least partially informed, you’ll still have a share of your audience who is completely unfamiliar with your core topics. For those users, it’s advisable to write up “101” guides, which formally introduce these concepts on a ground level. Strip away all the jargon, all the advanced tips and angles, and speak to people as if they’re finding out about this for the first time—because they just might be.
Your ability to make an awards content post depends on your current level of authority. If you’re just emerging on the scene, or if you’re a startup, it may not be a good idea to hand out awards to influencers and other sites you think are doing a good job. However, if you have a few years under your belt, you can create whatever awards you want (keeping it relevant to your brand, of course). For example, if you’re a graphic design firm, you can list businesses who achieved some kind of graphic design excellence in the past year—much like influencer quotes and author lists, this is a good way to please your users and connect with influencers at the same time.
95. Parody pieces.
If you’re feeling cheeky, or if your brand is playful enough to get away with it, you can also write parody pieces. These might be Onion-style articles poking fun at new developments in your industry, or straight-up humor pieces that serve as satire for the public, such as this open letter to local directory sites. If you can make your audience laugh, you’ll probably win them over (and earn some extra shares and links in the process); just try not to go overboard or deliver incorrect information that may be taken as truth.
96. Humorous insights.
Parodies aren’t the only ways to inject humor into your blog or website. You can also write more directly relatable and funny pieces, such as “X times your SEO strategy will make you want to punch a wall.” If you’re looking for inspiration, peruse your friends’ and family members shared posts on social media. Find a piece there you think is funny, and brainstorm a way you can adapt it to fit your industry, or find a similar yet original angle to take that your customers might appreciate.
97. Top post recaps.
Original content is important, and you should be creating new content regularly, but occasionally, it’s both permissible and beneficial to look back and recap some of the work you’ve already done. For example, you can collect up some of the best posts you’ve written over the course of the past month (in terms of comments, shares, traffic, or the metric of your choice) and assemble them into a “top 10” list. This will help rejuvenate attention for these pieces and show off how popular your content campaign has gotten, giving you a boost in authority.
98. Real-life presentations.
It’s easy to forget that there’s a physical side to content marketing in addition to a digital one. If you’re looking for a way to get more exposure for your brand and make new connections, consider signing up for a speaking event in your area. There are many ways to find these opportunities, and most of them will be happy to have you as a presenter. As an added bonus, when you’re done, you can take your slide presentation (or any other collateral you created for the presentation) and make it available to your audience.
To some, newsletters are a basic component of a content marketing strategy, but they’re also a critical opportunity to get new content to your subscribers and followers. Generally, you’ll use newsletters to distribute your top posts of the week (or month) or provide exclusive content to your subscribers to reward them for subscribing. However, you can also add some meta commentary, discussing some of the major wins you experienced and where you hope to go with your content campaign in the future. Give your readers the sense that you’re speaking to them directly, and they’ll be more likely to engage with you.
You can also turn some of your content into full-fledged coursework, provided you have enough material to truly educate someone. For example, you could organize some of your top posts into a linear, step-by-step system that walks users through the basics (such as with your “101” posts) and gradually more advanced topics. You could also include worksheets, quizzes, and other exercises for your users to complete, and offer a certificate of completion to give them an incentive to finish your program. If you’re successful here, you can expand your resources and potentially even charge for the opportunity eventually.
“Ultimate” resource guides are like eBooks—highly detailed and lengthy—but they’re also more interactive. They feature shorter sections, links out to other articles, and lists of outside tools and resources designed to complement the instructions and outlines they provide. The goal is to give a user a complete rundown on a given topic, providing not just the information they need to understand it, but also the motivation and the resources they need to pursue it.
Hopefully, these content ideas give you inspiration, direction, and even some practical tips to create a more diverse selection of content for your brand. With a list this long, you shouldn’t have any excuse not to have that editorial calendar filled up. Find a new regular staple, or be adventurous and try something new—no matter how you choose to use this list, do so with your users in mind. As long as you continue to provide them with informative, entertaining, and relevant content, your strategy will become a success.
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If you want more in-depth resources on content marketing, be sure to check out these guides from Jayson DeMers:
If you want to be a successful content marketer, it’s not enough to do what you think is effective—you need to objectively measure whether what you’re doing is effective or not, and then take the appropriate corrective actions.
Many marketers don’t understand what’s necessary in measuring and analyzing a content marketing campaign—and even if they do, they may have trouble interpreting the data. In our 2016 What Works in Online Marketing survey, 40% of respondents (114 out of 284) indicated that they were not sure about their ROI from on-site content marketing efforts, and 43% (123 out of 289) weren’t sure about ROI from their off-site efforts. Clearly, many marketers find it challenging to measure ROI from their content marketing efforts.
When you’re first starting out, measurement and analysis can be intimidating, but data measurement and analysis are objective and complex. I’ve written this guide to help you better understand the importance of measurement and analysis—and how to do it effectively for your content marketing campaign.
Why Analysis Is Important
Before I dig into the details of measurement and analysis, I want to explain the importance of analysis in the first place. Why is this phase of the process so important to the success and health of your campaign?
Setting and Measuring Goals
First, analysis can help you define, set, and eventually measure your content goals.
Defining success. There are many possible types of goals your brand can set for its content marketing campaign, and there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to go about it. For example, you could focus exclusively on building a better reputation for your brand, and work on getting featured in high-authority publishers. Or, you could focus on customer retention and drive your efforts toward your help and support content. You could focus more on generating traffic, or getting more conversions, or just reaching a wider social audience so you can attract more followers.
How can analysis help you figure out what goals you want to set? When you’re first starting out, most of your goals will be speculative, or based on preliminary forms of research like market research or competitive research. But once you get rolling, you’ll have access to far more in-depth and brand-specific pools of data, which can tell you exactly how your content is performing. Here, you’ll be able to see where your strengths and weaknesses are; for example, if you see that your conversion rates are at an all-time high, but your traffic is lackluster, you can adjust your goals to focus on attracting more traffic. You’ll also have a baseline for comparison here; if you know you’re getting 1,000 visitors a month with your current strategy, 1,200 next month is a pretty realistic target.
Goal criteria. When you’re setting goals to measure and analyze, you’ll want to keep some important criteria in mind. The SMART criteria is always a good standby here, even though there’s some variability in what “SMART” can actually stand for (Wikipedia says they stand for specific, measurable, achievable, relevance, and time-bound). Your goals should be specific, so you can have an objectively comparable number for your data. They should be measurable, obviously, so make sure your goals are relevant to something you can measure in your analytics platforms. Make them achievable and relevant, so they’re actually going to matter for your brand, and set a limit when it comes to timing (give yourself at least a month to make any kind of meaningful progress). Once you know your goals, you can establish what you’re actually going to measure—and how you’re going to measure it.
Ongoing development. Remember that the process of setting and achieving goals is an ongoing one. It’s something that should be revisited, modified, and adjusted as you gather more information about your campaign. For example, you might start with a goal of increasing traffic, and consistently move your targets up as you build more and more momentum, but as you reach a plateau, you may have to shift your focus or rein in your ambitions to hit more feasible, meaningful targets.
Identifying Successes and Failures
Experimentation in marketing is vital to the long-term success of your campaign. If you keep things too consistent or predictable, your campaign will end up becoming stagnant. Experiments, however, are risky; conceptually, you might identify them as strong opportunities for development, but in practice they may see very different results. Analytics is your tool to find out which of your experiments are working and which ones aren’t.
Depending on how you approach the problem, you can set up an AB test to compare two variations of a campaign independently. For example, you might launch two eBooks at a similar time and in a similar way to determine which one is more appealing to your target audience.
But you might also decide to simply change something about your campaign—such as targeting a new niche or ramping up the frequency at which you publish new content. In these cases, you’ll need to compare large swaths of data with others from a different time period.
In any case, analytics is the only way to know for sure whether one of your new strategies is working or not. Otherwise, you’re shooting blind, and you could end up wasting your time and money on strategies that aren’t effective.
Generating New Ideas
If you’re gathering enough data, you can use analytics to strategically generate new ideas for your content campaign. For example, let’s say you’re evaluating how effective various pieces of content have been in terms of attracting links and holding user interest once they’re on-site. You’ve developed a series of infographics that seems to be generating a lot of attention, and you’ve also written a new blog post about the history of the pogo stick that has seen a huge influx of visitors. Knowing these two trends, you could come up with a hybrid piece—like an infographic about pogo sticks history.
Looking more broadly, you could also identify key opportunities based on the types of traffic you’re attracting or other metrics that inspire you to pursue another line of development. For example, let’s say you notice there’s a surprising number of people from Twitter visiting your site, but you don’t use Twitter for promotion very much. You could take advantage of this by increasing your efforts on Twitter, but also catering to that audience by writing snappier, Twitter-optimized headlines. Peruse data sets you wouldn’t normally think about, and see if there are any outliers that stand out to you or give you inspiration to try something new.
6 Keys to Success in Measurement and Analysis
Next, let’s take a look at some of the key principles that will lead you to success when measuring and analyzing your content campaign. Throughout this guide, I’ll be digging deep into the process of measuring, how to interpret data, and what data sets to pay attention to, but first, you need to understand the following six high-level “rules” of the analysis game:
1. Measure everything. First, make it a point to measure everything you possibly can. Fortunately, we live in a digital age where most systems will track your performance for you. For example, if you syndicate your content on Facebook, Facebook will happily tell you how many impressions, views, and click-throughs it received, sparing you the trouble of any formal setup process. However, other systems require some degree of preparatory work; for example, before you can start taking advantage of Google Analytics, you’ll need to install a tracking script. Even if you have specific goals or specific platforms in mind when building your campaign, it’s a good idea to measure data with the broadest funnel possible—it’s always better to have more data than you need than to come up short or overlook something.
2. Measure consistently. Some marketers set up their analytic systems with the best intentions, believing they’ll be dutiful about checking in regularly. Others only set up tracking systems because that’s what they’re told to do. In both cases, it’s common for marketers to neglect establishing a pattern of consistent measurement. You need to be consistent in terms of when and how you measure; you’ll want to check in at the same time every month, or every two weeks, or whatever you decide, and you’ll need to be consistent in terms of what data you evaluate. This consistency will help keep you accountable for your goals, but will also allow you to have an “apples to apples” comparison, giving you more accurate insights and conclusions.
3. Choose the right tools. There are hundreds of marketing analytics tools available on the market these days, and new ones seem to be emerging all the time. Many of them are quite good. Most of them could probably help you. But only a handful of them will track exactly what you need them to track in a format that’s convenient and relevant for your brand. It’s going to take some time for you to run evaluations and figure out what the best platforms are for your brand; thankfully, most platforms offer free trials so you can figure it out quickly. Google Analytics is going to be a major help to you (and I’ll be exploring it in detail a bit later), but there are a number of other strong tools to consider. I’ll be exploring several of these in the final section of this guide.
4. Relate everything back to goals. Your data is only useful if you’re capable of tying it back to something significant for your campaign. The conduits you’ll use most often here are your goals. So let’s say one of your blog posts has attracted 20 percent more traffic than your other posts; how has this helped you reach your main goal? What can you learn from this increase that can help you reach your next goal? It sounds redundant, but data without purpose has no meaning. Frame everything in a context that leads back to bigger-picture thinking.
5. Avoid the temptation of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is a common and deadly threat to the average content marketer. The idea is pretty simple; we tend to seek out and/or overvalue information that already falls in line with what we believe. This is true even if we’re not fully conscious of our own beliefs. How does this relate to content marketing analysis? Let’s say you’ve launched a new strategy that you believe will increase reader engagement with your brand. With this belief in mind, you cruise your data sets, looking specifically for information to justify this belief. You see a handful of extra comments from readers and voila—your belief is (unjustly) verified. However, you may neglect other important indicators, such as bounce rates, exit rates, or social shares, that contradict that evidence, because you weren’t looking for it. Try to remain as neutral as possible when running your analysis, hard as it may be.
6. Make your insights actionable. This is the hardest step for many marketers. They’ll be able to give you lots of numbers, objective takeaways, and maybe even plot a few graphs to project the data, and those insights will all be true. But what are you supposed to actually do with those insights? Remember, your data is only useful if it leads to some kind of change. Aim for all of your insights to connect to some formal action.
6 Key Content Marketing Metrics to Analyze
You may find yourself seeking information on a number of different metrics, depending on your goals and the nature of your brand, but these six key areas of analysis are some of the most important for understanding the effectiveness of your content marketing efforts:
1. Traffic. Content marketing is an inbound strategy, and one of its biggest goals is to bring more people to your website. Depending on your area of expertise, or how you’re developing content, you may attract different types of traffic or attract it in different ways, but traffic is still a vital measure for the health of your campaign. For example, posting content off of your website with links pointing back to it will generate referral traffic, which you can use as a way to gauge off-site reader interest. Similarly, you can use social traffic to gauge your audience’s content interest on various social media platforms, or organic traffic to see how your content affects your search rankings. You’ll also be able to evaluate your traffic qualitatively; who’s coming to your site, and why?
2. Conversions. There are dozens of online marketing strategies, but almost all of them boil down to one goal: increasing conversions. A conversion is a successful user interaction—such as a user making a purchase, completing a form, or downloading a piece of content—and for most companies, this translates to revenue (or at least a measurable value). In some cases, conversions will be a way to value the traffic that your content earns, and in others, you’ll be using conversions to track your content’s success at converting readers.
3. Popularity. You’ll also want to measure the popularity of your content, in ways that transcend traffic or conversions. Some of your articles are going to be more popular than others, earning more shares, comments, engagements, and inbound links; obviously, there’s something you’ll want to learn from these outstanding pieces. You’ll also need to learn which of your strategiesor topics are ineffective, so you can weed those out of your lineup. Popularity can’t be tied to an objective value, the way that conversions or traffic can, but it’s an important qualitative measure to help you improve your content marketing efforts.
4. Brand awareness. Brand awareness is a notoriously difficult data point to measure, and there’s no universally agreed-on way to measure it. You could use social listening software (such as Hootsuite, SproutSocial, or SocialMention) to see how often your brand is mentioned on social media channels, news articles, or blogs, or you could conduct a wide-scale survey to see who has heard of your brand before and who hasn’t, but these are indirect measures of a qualitative characteristic. You won’t find “brand awareness” in any online analytics dashboard, but it’s still important to gauge how effective you are in promoting your brand.
5. Consumer engagement. Engagement is similar to popularity in that it can’t be tied to an objective value, but it’s a great way to gauge the health of your campaign. Getting more engagements means you’re selecting good topics, covering them appropriately, and most importantly, keeping yourself highly relevant to a specific target audience. Comments, interactions, tweets, shares, downloads, and discussions are all various forms of engagement you can look at to tell you how well you’re doing.
6. Reputation. Brand reputation is another finicky measurement, but fortunately this one has a handful of practical, objective measurements to point you in the right direction. For example, you can measure your site’s domain authority to determine how “authoritative” Google probably views your website. You may also want to go deeper by determining how users feel about your content specifically, such as conducting reader satisfaction surveys or asking for feedback.
I’ll be digging deeper into all these topics in the next few sections, but I wanted to give you the high-level view for context before we start measuring and analyzing each of these data points. The next two sections will be focusing on the concept of ROI, boiling complex data points down to objective measurements, and on qualitative measures of campaign effectiveness, which are beneficial but are tough to reduce to concrete takeaways.
Content Marketing ROI
For this brief section, we’re going to be focusing on the fundamentals of ROI, and to do that, we’ll be focusing on objective, quantitative data as much as possible.
What is ROI?
First, let’s define ROI—it’s an acronym that stands for “return on investment,” and most marketers will tell you it’s one of, if not the most important metric you need to know to determine your campaign’s effectiveness (in content or for any other strategy). If your ROI is positive, you’re doing something right – keep working to improve it. If your ROI is negative, you know that something isn’t working and it needs to change.
Content affects many areas. One of the reasons why content marketing is so powerful in the first place is because it doesn’t rest alone in any one area. It affects your domain authority and the amount of virtual real estate your website has, it facilitates social media marketing and email marketing, and can be used for countless other channels—it can even be used for client retention in addition to or instead of client acquisition.
Not all content effects are easy to measure. Some content benefits are terribly difficult to quantify. An increase in brand reputation can increase your conversion rates and may push users further along the buy cycle when they get to your site, but you can’t quantify these things with any degree of certainty.
It’s a slow building strategy. It takes a long time to see the true benefits from content marketing. As you grow your strategy from nothing, you’ll almost certainly start with a neutral or negative ROI, which can only become positive after months or even years of effort.
Despite these weaknesses, understanding your ROI as well as possible is crucial, so I still highly encourage you to keep it as one of your top priorities for gauging campaign success.
When it comes to quantitative data for your content campaign, there’s no better general tool than Google Analytics. It will help you track almost any data point you can imagine related to your content or your site, and it’s pretty easy to use. It even integrates with a number of third-party dashboards. Best of all, it’s completely free—all you need is a Google account, and you can grab a tracking script to place within the code of your site. There may be other platforms that can serve your specific needs better, or ones that are easier for you to use personally, but Google Analytics can work for almost anybody, so it’s the most universal platform I can offer or suggest.
Throughout this section, I’ll be exploring the different areas of Google Analytics you can use to evaluate your content marketing campaign, where to find it, and what your key takeaways should be from the information you find. I’ve organized this section in broad categories of data—such as “traffic” and “conversions,” so even if you don’t plan on using Google Analytics, you can still learn about the key metrics you need to measure and why they’re so important. I’ll be exploring alternative and complementary tools in the final section of this guide, so keep these metrics in mind for those as well.
First, let’s take a look at traffic, the number of people who visit your site. Obviously, the more people who visit your site, the better—more incoming people means you’ll have more opportunities for conversions, and even if they don’t convert, you’ll at least build more brand familiarity. One of the primary functions of content is to attract new users in the first place, and you can use the Acquisition section of Google Analytics to see how well your content performs this function.
Find the Acquisition section on the left-hand side of the dashboard, and click into the “Overview.” This will give you a detailed breakdown of how many visitors have come to your site during the time period you’ve selected, and where those users came from.
Organic Traffic. First, take a look at your organic traffic. This is a measure of all the traffic your site has received from organic searches in search engines like Google and Bing. You can break this down by search engine, and look at the keyword used for each search (though Google doesn’t provide much keyword information through Google Analytics anymore), but the big number to pay attention to here is the number of sessions you received. If you’re using content as part of an SEO strategy, this is the most comprehensive measure you can use to gauge its effectiveness. The more authority and visibility online you generate through your campaign, the higher this number will climb; just keep in mind this figure is also influenced by your SEO efforts (the lines are blurry here). If you see this number stagnating or dwindling, you’ll have to readjust the keyword focus and authoritative strength of your content.
Referral Traffic. Your referral traffic will give you another measure of your content’s specific influence. Referral traffic measures people who came to your site by clicking on an external link. Since many of your external links will be built in content you’ve submitted to off-site publishers (if you’re following my guide to link building), you’ll have clear insight not only into which publishers are sending you the most traffic, but what types of topics are generating the most visitors. Be sure to drill into this one, as it also includes referral traffic from links independent from your content marketing strategy. Take inventory of what parts of your off-site content strategy are succeeding or failing, and make adjustments accordingly.
Social Traffic. Next, you’ll want to take a look at the social traffic you’ve been able to generate. As you might imagine, this collects all the inbound traffic you’ve received from your social media channels, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn—and you can even look to see specifically which channels are generating the most traffic. From there, you can click into each individual platform and see what links syndicated on those platforms are responsible for what share of traffic you’re getting. It’s a fantastic way to gauge how your content is reaching the different segments of your social audience.
Direct Traffic. Finally, we have direct traffic, which is a bit harder to dissect. Direct traffic is comprised of several different potential sources:
Typing in your website address in the URL bar
Clicking a link from an email
Clicking a link from a chat software
Clicking a link from a shortened URL (such as bit.ly)
Clicking a link from a mobile social media app such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn (phone apps usually don’t pass referrer information).
Clicking a link from a secure site (https) that leads to a non-secure site (http). Watch out for this, because some major publications, such as Entrepreneur.com, use https. So, if your site isn’t secure (http), then any referral traffic you get from it will actually show up in the “direct traffic” bucket in Google Analytics.
Organic search (some of it, anyway). A study by Groupon found that up to 60% of traffic being reported as “direct” was actually organic search traffic. It’s not yet known why some organic search traffic is dumped into the wrong bucket, but it’s worth knowing about.
There’s no easy way to tell how many users who accessed your site directly did so because they’ve been exposed to your content in the past, but there are ways to evaluate how many visitors are new versus how many have been here before—I’ll be touching on that in a later section. Don’t write off direct traffic entirely, but it’s usually not as closely related to your content strategy as these other channels.
One of the lesser-known and utilized features of Google Analytics is custom reports. My favorite custom report shows full referring URLs for every referral visit, along with the destination URL on your website. So, for example, if a reader reads one of my Forbes articles and clicks a link within the article that takes them to a specific page on my website, Google Analytics allows me to see the URL of the Forbes article, along with the page on my website that the user landed on when they clicked the link:
This is actionable intelligence because it shows you which specific external assets/media are generating the most traffic, and to which specific pages. Furthermore, when compared to conversion data, it’s possible to see which external publishers drive the most conversions, allowing you to refine and optimize your future outreach efforts.
Follow these steps to set up this custom report:
Log into your Google Analytics account and select your website’s profile.
Click the “Customization” tab at the top of Google Analytics
Click “New Custom Report”
Click “Flat Table” when you’re asked to select the “type”
Click “Dimensions” then select “Full Referrer” under “Behavior” as well as “Destination Page”
Click “Add Metric” under the “Metrics” section, then add “Visitors” and/or “Unique Visitors.” Feel free to experiment with adding other metrics here as well, such as bounce rate or pages / session.
Click “Add to Dashboard” (optional)
Visit your dashboard and you’ll see the report, or visit the “Customization” tab and then select the custom report name from the left side to see it any time.
Referring to the image above, I can see that I get a lot of traffic from Forbes articles that I’ve published; particularly ones that relate to social media and how to drive traffic to your website. More content on Forbes that covers these angles could be helpful in my content strategy.
Traffic is all well and good, but what is that traffic doing once it gets to your site? Are these people who are buying products from you, or just passersby who kicked the tires and moved on? Conversions will be able to tell you the difference, and it’s important to know exactly how many you’re getting—and how much they’re worth.
1. Defining conversions. First, you need to know what qualifies as a conversion and what doesn’t. The potential definition is pretty broad; any type of meaningful user activity could be theoretically counted as a conversion. By most standard definitions, a conversion would be considered to take place during a monetary transaction, such as a purchase, or an action that could potentially lead to such a transaction, such as signing up for a webinar or filling out a form.
2. Measuring conversions. Conversion opportunities are nice, but of course you’ll need to measure how often those conversions are made. Your site may have a feature in the backend to measure and analyze your conversion opportunities—especially if you use a common content management system like WordPress—so feel free to use that. Otherwise, Google Analytics has a useful section called Goals that can help you track almost any kind of conversion you can imagine. Head to the Admin tab of your account, and you’ll find Goals as one of the main options.
Here, you’ll be able to create a separate “Goal” for every conversion opportunity you have. Google is super helpful, and has a number of templates you can choose from, including “contact us” and “place an order,” which are two common variants.
Follow the instructions here—Google walks you through every step of the process. Then, you’ll be able to track all your Goals in the same section, or access Goal data on individual report pages. For example, you’ll be able to see how each segment of traffic (referral, organic, social, etc.) converts compared to the others.
Calculating conversion value
You can calculate exactly how much one of your conversions is worth. This is more straightforward for some types of conversion than it is for others. For example, if you have historical data on your customers’ past purchases, you can easily calculate the approximate value of a customer purchase. However, if you count a conversion as a lead, you’ll need to factor in the expected lifetime value of a client, your close rate, and other variables that could influence the full equation. The more precise you can be, the better, but an estimate is okay.
Calculating Quantitative Revenue
Once you have your goal tracking set up in Google Analytics, you can calculate the total revenue from your content marketing campaign in two separate dimensions:
1. Conversions as a measure of traffic value. First, you can use your conversion rate and conversion value to estimate the approximate worth of each new visitor. For example, let’s say you have a conversion rate of 2 percent with 1,000 monthly visitors and a $1,000 conversion value. You’d get 20 conversions, with a total value of $20,000. Therefore, the average value of a visitor to your site is $20. You can apply this math however you like; you can look at your site’s “average” visitor from any direction, or drill down to visitors from one specific channel or another (as long as you use the appropriate data sets for your variables).
2. Conversions as an indicator of content success. Don’t forget your content has the potential value to encourage conversions through calls-to-action. You can also measure specific Goals related to the calls-to-action your content supports, and use that information to determine how effective your content is at generating new conversions.
Accordingly, you may need to segregate your conversion efforts, measuring different Goals for each dimension. It may also be beneficial to work on conversion optimization as a strategy separate from content marketing, though the quality of your content (and your use of calls-to-action within it) can affect your conversion rates.
Calculating Quantitative Costs
Between knowing your traffic volume, conversion rates, and conversion value, you can sufficiently estimate the approximate value of your content marketing strategy—at least from a quantitative perspective (I’ll get into qualitative measurements in the next section). But don’t forget the other side of ROI—the amount you’re investing in your campaign.
Most of these factors aren’t measurable through a dashboard or analytics platform, so you’ll need to rely on your company’s own internal financial data. Take a look at the following:
Agency & contractor spending. If you’re working with an agency or any contractors, calculating your costs will be simple. Agencies and contractors vary wildly on price due to different levels of expertise and different niches, but for the most part, their services are reduced to either an easy-to-understand monthly rate, or project-based payments. Set these costs aside, and combine them with your other expenditures (if you have any) to project a final cost for your content marketing efforts.
Employee time and cost. When you’re doing some of the content marketing work yourself, or you’re relying on your full-time staff members to do the work, it’s easy to forget that these forms of effort are costing you money as well. If you have a full-time employee dedicated to content marketing, all you’ll need to consider here is their full-time salary, but it gets complicated when different team members are investing different amounts of time at different rates of pay. Do your best to reduce these hours of invested time and effort into a quantifiable metric—and include your own time as well (here’s a handy calculator to help with that).
Tools and other resources. Finally, you’ll need to include the monthly costs for all the tools, dashboards, and services you subscribe to in order to make the magic happen. Think carefully here: Do you use any analytics platforms, syndication platforms, management tools, collaborative tools, or communication platforms exclusively for content marketing? Include their monthly fees in your total expenditures.
Collect all these sources together to estimate how much you’re spending on your content marketing efforts. This is a good opportunity to assess where you’re spending the most time and money, and you may find that you pay more than you thought you did.
Finalizing Quantitative ROI
Now that you have all the information on how much your content campaign is objectively returning to you and how much you’re spending, you can estimate your campaign’s total quantitative ROI (that is, your ROI before taking qualitative measurements into considerations). Take the average value of a conversion (along with your conversion rate), and use that to estimate the average value of a site visitor.
Tally up all the visitors in a month that were influenced by your content strategy, and calculate a total value of those visitors. Compare this against what you spend in a month, and voila—you’ll have a rough figure for the ROI of your campaign (not including qualitative benefits).
If your ROI is positive, congratulations! You’re doing a fine job, and you should keep it up. Pay special attention to the areas of your content strategy that are performing best—such as topics, syndication channels, or formats that are especially valuable—and keep refining those.
If your ROI is steady or negative, you have some work to do (unless you’re just starting out with a new campaign). Take a critical look at where you’re underperforming, specifically, or where you’re overspending, and work to make corrections for subsequent months. You may need to aggressively experiment to achieve a positive change, but the worst thing you can do in a negative-ROI situation is nothing.
There is one additional caveat to considering your ROI, however; you need to remember there are less measurable, qualitative benefits to your campaign as well.
Now, we’re going to turn our attention toward the qualitative benefits and effects of your content marketing campaign. These are just as real, and just as effective for promoting your brand, but they’re not as numerically or as directly measurable as the quantitative factors we used to formulate ROI.
Earlier, we focused on the Acquisition and Goals tabs in Google Analytics. Now, we’re going to be spending some time in the Behavior area, where you can gain insights about how users interact with your site.
Our first stop is evaluating your brand presence. How effective is your content when it comes to promoting your brand and making it more visible to a wider audience? Answering this question can help you find weak points or strong points in your campaign; are there certain areas lagging behind others? Are there key opportunities for development?
On-site distribution. You produce a lot of content, but how much of that content is currently getting seen or interacted with? Which topics are getting more attention than others? We can find the answers to these questions in the Behavior tab. Take a look at the Site Content section, and pull up the full report by clicking “All Pages”.
You’ll see a detailed list of every page of your site that has received at least one visit within the specified timeframe, by default ranked in order of traffic (Pageviews). Odds are, your homepage gets the lion’s share of traffic, which is represented by a slash (/), but if you drop down, you can take a look at how your actual content stacks up against each other in terms of popularity.
Off-site presence. Next, you’ll need to take a look at your off-site presence. You can do this through the Referral traffic custom report you created in the last section. What are your top sources for new traffic? What kind of reputation benefits is your brand getting from its affiliation with these sources? From which sources do you see the best conversion rates?
Brand mentions. You can also get a gauge for your current brand presence by seeing how often your brand is mentioned on social media. For platforms like Twitter and Instagram, you can easily see what users are mentioning you, or you could also do an in-app search for terms specifically related to your brand. But if you want to go the extra mile, you could use social listening software to help you figure out exactly how, when, and in what capacity people are referencing your brand.
Brand awareness is loosely tied into your overall brand presence; after all, the more prominent your brand and content are, on-site and off-site, the more aware people are going to be of your brand. But we’re not just looking for the reach and value of your content here; we’re trying to figure out what people know about your brand. For example, you might have content on a dozen high-authority sites generating thousands of visitors to your site every month, but do those visitors know what your brand actually does, or how it fits into your industry? Are they going to remember your brand after they give your site a once-over?
Brand awareness is tricky to measure. You can use indirect forms of measurement, such as how many new followers you’re able to attract or how informed your leads seem to be when you collect them, but if you want to be as accurate as possible, your best course of action is to conduct a survey. Ask people if they’ve heard about your brand, how they heard about your brand, and their subjective opinions on it. This can help you gauge how effective your content is at making your brand both positive and memorable.
Earning lots of traffic through quality content is a great first step, but your long-term goals should be focused on building better customer relationships and keeping them around for as long as possible. As such, reader retention should be just as high a priority as new reader acquisition.
There are several ways you can measure this (and gain insights that allow you to improve your approach):
Followers. Any social media marketing expert will tell you that the “follower” and “like” counts of social media profiles are somewhat overblown statistics for success. Just because a user followers your brand on a social media platform doesn’t mean they’re actively viewing what you’re posting, or that they have any meaningful connection to your brand. Chasing followers is often meaningless to your bottom line. However, measuring the growth of your followers (and future retention) based purely on the attractiveness of your own efforts is a good gauge of your campaign’s strength. If you find your follower counts slowing or falling backward, take a good look at the content you’re promoting, and whether your content’s quality and engagement has taken a nosedive. Fortunately, this is an easy metric to track and follow.
Subscribers. If you use an RSS feed, you can also measure the growth of your subscribers much in the same way that you measure the growth of your social media followers. Barring that, you can use your email newsletter subscribers as a gauge here. Pay careful attention to any spikes or valleys in your data—are they coincidentally timed with any new changes to your strategy? Are there any specific subscriber tendencies that you can optimize your campaign for? Users won’t subscribe unless they’re truly interested in your content.
Repeat traffic. Your volume of returning visitors should also suggest something about the sticking power of your content. Head to the Audience section of Google Analytics to find this, and look under Behavior to find the New vs. Returning report. Here, you’ll see a breakdown of all your site users who are new to your site against who’s returning for a second or subsequent visit. You can also filter this report by other factors; for example, you can isolate social or referral traffic. You’ll want to be careful of the balance here; new users are good for your acquisition efforts, while returning users are good for your retention efforts. Which one you choose ultimately boils down to your unique company goals.
Loyalists and evangelists. You can also subjectively view your content’s impact on people by observing how they behave in relation to your brand. For example, do you have any loyalists, who appear to like or share almost everything you post on social media? Do you have any brand evangelists who mention your brand often and recommend it to others? Both these types of users are indispensable for your content campaign in terms of further promotion of your material, but are also good indicators that your content is making a significant impact.
Likes, Links, and Shares
Likes, links and shares are all important indicators for your content’s effectiveness as well, for more reasons than one. These three types of engagements are quite distinct, but all of them share a commonality; they require a reader to acknowledge your content as worthy of being spread to more people, which is usually a good thing. In increasing order of value are likes (or “favorites”), shares, and links. A like simply requires a click, while a share requires a click and an inherent endorsement, and a link is a broader endorsement of that content which persists indefinitely. Shares are especially important because they allow your content to be seen by more people, and links are especially important because they directly correlate with increased organic search visibility, which, in turn, drives more traffic to your website.
If your website is on WordPress, you can use my favorite social sharing plugin, Social Warfare, to not only place social share buttons on your posts automatically, but also provide you with a breakdown of share counts for each post on your website.
You can monitor your likes and shares directly on their social media platforms. Take note not only of the types of content you produced, but when and how you syndicated them (for example, did you use a custom headline?).
For links, you’ll have to use a tool like Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, or Majestic, which allow you to list all the links you have pointing back to your site. This is especially helpful for monitoring what types of content earn the most links naturally.
URLProfiler is another tool that I really like for content analysis. You can use it to create a list of URLs for every page on your site, and gather other metrics such as total shares for each URL, links for each, and much more. It outputs data in a spreadsheet so you can manipulate it to your heart’s content.
Comments and Engagement
So far, most of the qualitative metrics we’ve looked at have dealt with either a piece’s ability to attract clicks and brief interactions, or a campaign’s ability to retain readers. Now, let’s look at how your individual content pieces are able to hold a reader’s interest. These indications will tell you which of your pieces attract the most held interest, which is valuable because it leads to more invested customers/readers, and because it increases the likelihood of sharing and linking.
Time spent on page. For any piece of content on your site, you can look at the time spent on page metric to determine how long the average user stays on the page. Obviously, this can’t tell you whether or not these users actually read your material, but it’s a pretty good indirect indication of reader engagement. For example, if you have a blog post that’s 10,000 words long and your average user only spends 45 seconds on it, it might not be very informative, attention-grabbing or engaging in the beginning. On the other hand, if your time spent on page is several minutes, you know you have a keeper.
Discussions. Discussions are another good relative gauge of your content’s interactivity. You can artificially spur discussions by asking prompting questions, such as “what do you think? Let us know in the comments,” or by deliberately choosing a debatable or controversial issue. In any case, discussions about your work in the comments section or on social media are a good metric to gauge the influence of your material on your readers.
Reaction scale. This is a highly qualitative measurement, since it will require you to read individual comments and interactions, then draw a conclusion about how those users feel about your content. The more intense reactions you get out of people, the more successful you can consider your content to be (generally). For example, a phrase like “nice post,” isn’t as intense as one like “OMG, thank you for this! Exactly what I needed!” Eliciting stronger reactions usually means you’ll attract more discussions, gain more visibility (especially through shares), and affect a larger percentage of your readership.
Interactive elements. You can also measure your content’s interactivity by directly measuring the interactive elements within it. In fact, Google Analytics’s Goals section has a complete subsection dedicated to helping you track these modules. Calculators, information comparisons, or video plays can all be tracked separately—and obviously, the more users who interact with these features, the better.
Feedback. As an additional measure, it’s a good idea to collect reader feedback regularly, as directly as possible. Conduct surveys among your readership and ask them what they think about your content, including your topic selection, the quality of your material, and whether they have any suggestions for future entries. Sometimes, the best way to get the information you’re looking for is to ask for it directly.
There are a handful of special situations and strategies that should be taken into account, beyond the basics of measuring a content marketing campaign’s effectiveness.
eBook and whitepaper performance
For starters, you may be using eBooks or whitepapers as dedicated, long-form, “landmark” pieces above and beyond your “typical” blog and content strategy. These are frequently offered as downloadable PDFs, rather than on-site forms of content, and because they take more time and investment, you’ll need to be precise when measuring how much potential value they hold.
Downloads. The first metric you’ll want to track is the number of downloads your piece receives. This is a straightforward measurement that can tell you how interesting your topic is to your target audience; people generally won’t download a piece of content like this unless they have the intention of at least skimming it. If you notice your number of downloads decreasing from topic to topic, it could be an indication that your earlier work wasn’t as powerful or as effective as your audience thought it would be. On the other hand, if your download counts rise, it’s a sign of positive momentum building.
Landing page visits and conversions. One of the best ways to increase the return on your content investment is to establish separate landing pages for each of your content pieces, so you can target your audience with pinpoint accuracy. For each of these separate pages, you’ll need to track metrics like page visits and conversions separately. Treat each landing page as if it’s a separate, “mini” website in its own right. You can also track statistics like time spent on page, or if you want to get fancy, you can use heat map technology to determine exactly how your users interact with the landing page itself (but that veers into web design and conversion optimization territory, rather than content marketing measurement).
Different goals. I also want to point out that your whitepapers and eBooks will likely be written with different goals in mind than your foundational content strategy. Where your typical content strategy might revolve around getting people to your website or earning more conversions, these pieces might be linked to a paid advertising campaign to generate email addresses from potential leads, or you might even be selling them to your audience directly. Be sure to reevaluate what goals you’re setting, and how and why you’re setting them.
Help and troubleshooting content
You might also have a separate “wing” of your content strategy dedicated to help and troubleshooting content, guiding users through the use of your products and services, or otherwise lending them support in your area of expertise. This is an excellent strategy for customer retention, and is being increasingly used by major brands, but you’ll have to adjust how you measure and analyze your performance here.
It’s all about utility. You don’t need to worry about inbound traffic and conversions here to calculate the value of your work; instead, the value here is all about utility. Was your content able to solve an issue that a customer had? Was your content thorough and descriptive? “Usefulness” is an ambiguously defined quality here, but you’ll need to evaluate it if you want to gauge your effectiveness. The more useful your content is, the better job it will do at keeping your customers happy.
Types of user feedback. Since everything’s going to depend on user feedback here, you’ll need to collect that feedback in a number of different ways. For example, you could include a comments sections, which would help you qualitatively and indirectly gauge how satisfied your users seem to be, or you could use a more pointed system, like the question “was this article helpful?” at the end of the piece. Star rating systems and surveys are also effective. Google Support employs these tactics effectively, on multiple levels:
The visibility factor. Though usability and user feedback are important factors of success while customers are engaging with your material, your help and troubleshooting content won’t do much good if nobody knows they’re there. Be sure to promote the existence of this support section on all the typical content syndication and promotion channels you use for the rest of your campaign—and measure your effectiveness accordingly.
Email marketing performance
Email marketing can be considered a branch of content marketing, since it’s usually either relying on content for the bulk of its promoted material (like with an email newsletter), or it’s providing the content itself. Accordingly, it’s a good idea to track your content performance over email marketing as well. Google Analytics can give you information about how many of your subscribers visited your site, but for more in-depth performance metrics, you’ll need to consult your email distribution platform of choice.
Symbiotic relationship with content. First, note that there’s a mutual, almost symbiotic relationship between email and content in general. Your email marketing campaign can be used to promote and improve the interactivity of your content campaign, while your content campaign can attract new, more interested subscribers for your email blasts. How you treat email marketing depends on the ultimate goals of your campaign; for example, if you’re mostly focused on generating new traffic and sales, email marketing should be focused on driving all traffic and attention to your blog, and you should be measuring how effective it is at this specific task.
Engagement factors. You’ll also want to look at engagement factors within the email itself (as a general rule). What types of headlines and content are causing people to open emails the most? How often are people interacting with or clicking on links within your email content? You can use heat maps and advanced analytics to determine these metrics, or stick to high-level factors like traffic flow, depending on how important email engagement is for your content campaign.
“Next-level” traffic. You’ll also want to take a look at the traffic you get from email within Google Analytics. Segment this traffic out and look at factors like time spent on page and conversion rates; this segment of traffic can be considered to be in the next phase of your buying cycle. Because they’re subscribers, they’re already at least somewhat familiar with and interested in your brand. How does this change the way they interact with your content? Are they more or less engaged by it? This information can help you develop a more refined strategy, depending on whether you’re more interested in the generation of new brand awareness, or the capturing of already-interested customers.
Other Tools for Success
For the majority of this guide, the main tool I’ve been suggesting to measure and analyze your content campaign has been Google Analytics, but there are dozens of other potential choices, each of which offers an area of specialty, and some advantages and disadvantages that could make it a better option (or complementary addition) for your analysis.
Open Site Explorer
Our first stop here is Moz’s Open Site Explorer, which I made reference to earlier in this article. This tool specializes in evaluating your inbound link profile (and the profiles of your competitors, should you choose). Enter your domain and it will give you a breakdown of some key facts about your website, including your domain authority, page authority, and how many links you have pointing to your website.
There are two main takeaways here. First up is your domain authority, which is a proprietary, predictive measure of how well a site will rank in search engines. The quantity and quality of your inbound links are the factors that influence your domain authority, and this should increase over time as your website gains more (and better) inbound links. Second, you’ll use this tool to evaluate how successful your content is at generating inbound links. Input any page URL (including individual blog posts) to see what types of links it has—and from where. Combined with the knowledge you have about your content topics and promotion efforts, you should be able to draw some logical conclusions about the link-drawing power of not only your individual content, but also your campaign as a whole.
Free (mostly). If you’re only looking up information on one or two URLs, Open Site Explorer is free to use. If you want to expand beyond that, it’s reasonably priced.
Evaluates authority. Google won’t tell you any measure of your “domain authority” or “page authority”, but this will; it’s just an estimate, granted, but it’s a solid and well-respected indicator of authority in the online marketing industry.
Evaluates content power. When it comes to evaluating individual content in terms of its potential reach through shares and links, and allowing you to compare those metrics with those of your competitors, there aren’t any better tools.
Allows off-site diversification. This tool can also help you probe for weak points in your off-site posting strategy by comparing your links with those of your competitors. Where are your competitors getting links that you aren’t? Can you replicate their successes? Are you relying on links from too many of the same sources? Have you diversified your efforts enough?
Sprout Social is a tool that caters to, as you might imagine, social media marketing. There’s a whole host of functions to play with here. One of its main goals is to facilitate the effective management of your social media campaign, scheduling posts in advance across a wide variety of different platforms, but where it really stands out is its ability to facilitate research and analysis.
The most important functions for your content analysis strategy are the social listening feature and the post performance feature. Through social listening, you’ll be able to put an ear to the ground and figure out what your followers are talking about—this is useful for seeing if your new topics have generated discussion, if your brand is increasing in visibility and reputation, or even just fishing for new topics in general. Social post analysis will help you learn how your syndicated pieces of content are performing on various channels.
Allows social listening. Being able to tune into your audience’s conversations as they relate to your brand is a huge deal, whether you do it proactively or as a way of gauging your impact.
Evaluates content performance. Though each platform offers analytic tools separately, here you can track your posts’ reach, click-throughs, and engagements all in one place.
ScoopIt is a platform for content curation and automation, designed to help make content marketers’ lives easier. In addition to supplying lines of research, preparation, and organization to help you execute your strategy effectively, ScoopIt also integrates with a number of platforms to help you gauge each of your pieces’ impacts on your audience. You’ll be able to look up both quantitative and qualitative factors, such as visits, shares, and even engagements and customer behaviors over time.
The platform is especially valuable because it attempts to save you that all-too-important step of taking meaningful data and turning it into something significant and actionable for your brand. It takes a look at all the different factors your content contains, how it performed, and makes suggestions for changes or future content pieces.
Plan and measure a strategy in one place. Most content marketers end up scrapping together automation and efficiency services from dozens of different software platforms if for no other reason than so many platforms are available. ScoopIt helps you manage all these, plus measurement and analysis all in one place.
Get actionable insights. It’s hard to take data and use it to form truly actionable conclusions. ScoopIt spares you the work.
Adapt over time. ScoopIt also allows you a certain degree of customizability, giving you the freedom to adapt your strategy, approach, and analysis methods over time.
KissMetrics is another popular content analysis platform (and the brand has an amazing content strategy that’s worth checking out). Rather than focusing on the content side of things, with statistics based on reach and influence, KissMetrics differentiates itself by focusing more on your target audience. How are your audience members responding to your content? What are they doing once they get to your website? Are you addressing their needs sufficiently, or is there more you can be doing to satisfy them?
Truth be told, KissMetrics can be used for a variety of different online marketing functions, including conversion optimization and sales improvement. Its use as a content analysis tool taps only a portion of its potential, but it’s still highly valuable. With it, you’ll be able to see exactly who’s reading your content, what content they’re reading, and how they’re responding to it—in detail.
Learn more about your audience. With KissMetrics, you’ll find out way more about your target audience than Google Analytics would be able to tell you. This is effective not only as an analytical tool, but as a research tool.
Track customer behavior in detail. Furthermore, you’ll be able to learn more specifically how your customers interact with your content through features like heat maps.
Cyfe has become popular due to its universal utility; it claims to be an “all-in-one business dashboard,” collecting information from dozens of different areas to help you understand your marketing, branding, and overall online presence in one place. It offers infrastructural tools, such as time tracking and management, and plenty of widgets and customizable features so you can build out the platform to be whatever you need it to be.
From a content tracking perspective, this is advantageous mostly because you can use it to track as much or as little as you want it to. You won’t find any data points here that can’t be tracked elsewhere, and it doesn’t specialize in any one feature or function, but the convenience factor can’t be overlooked.
Cover anything. You can track almost any business metric you can think of using this platform, which is extraordinarily convenient.
Customize to your liking. If you’re even moderately tech-savvy, you’ll be able to turn this platform into any kind of performance tool you need.
You’ve probably heard of Bit.ly before, but you most likely recognize it for its core functionality: serving as a link shortening tool. This feature is still as popular and as useful as ever—you can head to the site and, for free, enter any URL to get a shortened version you can then do anything you want with. It makes managing and sharing lengthy URLs much easier, and remains an important tool for content promotion and syndication.
However, most people don’t realize that Bit.ly also offers some surprisingly in-depth analytics about user behavior related to those URLs. Once you’ve created a custom URL for a page of your site, you can use that URL signature to trace things like traffic and audience type.
Free (mostly). You can use Bit.ly to create shortened URLs for you, but if you want custom shortening or full access to their analytics platform, you’ll have to pay for it.
Track custom links. The ability to create and track custom links is especially beneficial for content campaigns targeting different audience segments, or those running AB tests for visibility and growth.
The last analytics platform I’ll mention is Clicky. Clicky is a somewhat simple-looking dashboard that offers a ton of information about your website, your visitors, and your content performance. In addition to monitoring important factors like site uptime and audience composition, Clicky lets you monitor various user actions and interactions with your site, and can help you easily visualize the popularity and performance of your content.
Where Clicky specializes is the real-time projection of metrics. Google Analytics offers something similar, but Clicky can help you see how your site visitors are engaging with your material as they engage with it. It’s an especially impressive demonstration if you need to prove your campaign’s effectiveness to an outside party.
View real-time metrics. The big unique benefit here is the ability to view site interactions in real-time.
Use heat maps. Heat maps aren’t a default feature in most of the analytics apps I’ve mentioned so far, but they’re highly useful in evaluating user behavior and disposition.
Monitor links. Clicky also helps you monitor your off-site content and link building campaigns, much like Open Site Explorer.
As you’ve seen, measuring and analyzing the quality and effects of your content marketing campaign isn’t exactly straightforward. There are thousands of potential variables, and the ones you need to examine for your campaign won’t necessarily be the same for anyone else. Measuring effectively depends on having a clear vision, with specific goals, and a general understanding of what “success” means for your campaign. If you need help getting started with a campaign from scratch, be sure to check out my in-depth guide on planning and launching a content marketing campaign.
Following the advice I’ve presented in this guide, you should be able to effectively track countless metrics important to the health and longevity of your content campaign, calculating your overall ROI and targeting key areas for development and improvement. The keys here, as with most marketing campaigns, are consistency and effort, so keep working hard toward measuring and achieving your goals.
If you want more in-depth resources on content marketing, be sure to check out these guides from Jayson DeMers:
The next entry in the content marketing series is here, and it’s all about promoting your content after it’s been published. Read on to learn the secrets of maximizing your content’s visibility online.
There are many components to a successful content marketing strategy, and a number of them apply to the events leading up to content creation—including research, strategy planning, drafting, and publishing. I’ve written a guide on how to plan and launch your content strategy, which could be helpful if you’re still in this phase.
But this guide is all about the other side of the equation—the side that gets neglected by most content marketers. Everyone knows the importance of publication in content marketing (otherwise, you’d have no “content”), but for many marketers, that’s the end of the line. Once a piece is created, your job is pretty much done, right?
Wrong. In fact, the tactics you use to promote and nurture your published content have just as big of an impact on your overall results as the quality of your content in the first place. Without a proper follow-up strategy, even your best content might fail to live up to its true potential.
In this guide, I’ll explain the concept of promotion and nurturing, why it’s important for any content marketing strategy, and of course, the specific tactics you’ll need to leverage in order to maximize your content’s visibility. As usual, this guide is broken up into clear sections, so feel free to jump around to the sections that matter most to you and your brand.
The Importance of Following Up
Let’s start by taking a look at why a content promotion and nurturing strategy is important in the first place. Theoretically, your content should speak for itself; the whole idea behind inbound marketing in general is that if you offer enough value to people, they’ll naturally come to you. But as you’ll see, this isn’t exactly the case – especially in today’s crowded content market.
Content in a vacuum
When you publish your first post on a blog with no existing readership, no social media following, and no external ties, links, or support, you’re essentially publishing content in a vacuum. The vast majority of online users don’t go out of their way to track down new content; instead, they rely on connections that are already established, such as news sources, friends, and social media sites. Without any meaningful connections, there’s no way for users to discover your content, and even if that content is a masterpiece, it’s not going to bear any significant effects for your brand. You can think of this as a variation of the “if a tree falls in the forest and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound?” argument, and that analogy has been made in the past. But personally, I think the more accurate analogy is the tagline to the movie Alien: “in space, no one can hear you scream.”
In effect, you can scream as loud as you want—produce the best content you want—but it’s not going to matter unless you can get that content in front of the right people.
The goals of promotion and nurturing
Getting your content seen by more people is a big part of your promotion and nurturing strategy, but that isn’t the only goal. There are many benefits to promoting and nurturing your material, which manifest differently depending on what you’re promoting and how you’re promoting it:
Increased visibility. The first benefit is somewhat obvious. When you circulate a piece of content, or put it in front of a bigger audience, you’re going to get more visibility for that piece. It’s why so many brands take to posting their content through social media channels, showcasing their best work for thousands of people (or more). This visibility increase not only makes the brand more approachable to more new people, but also funnels more traffic and links to the page on which that content resides. You’ll find your promotion also has a compounding effect; as more people see your content and engage with it, it will become even more popular, and may even end up supporting and promoting itself among your new readers and followers.
Rejuvenated interest. You can also use content promotion as a way of rejuvenating interest in some of your older posts. Remember, every content asset you create is permanent (if you want it to be), and because content marketing is a long-term strategy, the value you’ve created never really goes away. Let’s say you wrote an amazing piece about a new technology in your industry a few months ago, but since then, interest in the piece has tapered off. Knowing its past popularity, you could redistribute the piece and drum up new interest in what otherwise would have gotten buried and forgotten.
Maximizing efficiency. Promoting content is also about maximizing the efficiency of your strategy. It takes significant time and effort to create each piece of content (if it’s truly high-quality), so it’s in your best interest to tap each of those assets for everything they’re worth. Think of it like this; if you’re a farmer and you have a certain number of acres of land, it’s in your best interest to maximize the yield for each of those acres, regardless of how many you have, or how much you’re selling your crops for. Promotion and nurturing are ways to maximize the potential value of every new piece of content you create.
Filling your other strategies. Finally, promoting your content isn’t just about drawing more attention to your content strategy, specifically. Content marketing is inextricably linked to many other marketing strategies, including SEO and social media. Strategically promoting your content on certain platforms, or with certain audiences, can help you complement and improve your performance in these peripheral campaigns.
Types of promotion
Throughout this guide, I’m going to be walking you through the many types of content promotion that you can engage in. These vary from free to expensive, from easy to hard, from temporary to long-term, and offer many different advantages and disadvantages between them. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with each approach, and decide on an individual basis whether or not each one is right for your brand. Some brands may wish to use all these strategies in conjunction with each other, complementing all their strengths and weaknesses at once, while others may wish to focus on the one or two most likely to bring them results.
In any case, here’s a briefer on where this guide is going from here:
Social media. Social media is a broad term—as you well know, there are dozens of different social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. All of these platforms allow your brand to create a free account, which you can then use to start attracting an audience and promoting your content. The real power of social media is the ability to attract and retain an audience; as your audience gets bigger and more passionate about your brand, every promotion you make becomes more beneficial to you. For example, when Content Marketing Institute tweets, they reach potentially over 180,000 followers.
Email marketing. Email marketing is another inexpensive means of promoting your content, and like social media, it offers compounding returns. As you develop a reputation for providing great content, you’ll earn more subscribers, and as your subscriber base grows, your promotion potential grows alongside it. You can use email to selectively promote individual pieces of your blog (like a newsletter), promote an upcoming webinar or eBook, round-up top posts from your on-site or off-site content, round-up the best content from other influencers in your industry, or make exclusive content offers.
Influencer marketing. Influencer marketing is a way of harnessing the existing influential power of other authorities in your industry. There are several ways you can do this, including working together with other authorities to produce content that each of you can promote, cross-promoting your materials, or even simply earning a mention from a well-known industry figure.
Links. Both internal and external links are valuable in funneling traffic to your most important content assets. Internal links will help direct more of your users toward your best pieces, while your inbound link building strategy can boost the page authority and search rankings of those piece (be sure to check out my guide on link building, too!)
Social bookmarks. Social bookmarking sites and other content communities were specially designed to find, collect, and showcase content from the far corners of the Internet. Submitting your content here has a potentially high payoff in terms of visibility, but it’s not exactly reliable.
Paid advertising. Paid advertising is one of the more direct ways to promote your content. While I’m typically a fan of less expensive, more organic, long-term strategies like the ones I’ve referenced above, paid advertising can be a strong short-term measure to get more eyes on your content.
Transformations. Finally, you can transform your content into different mediums, applications, or angles in order to generate new interest in it or help it appeal to a different segment of your target audience.
Next up, I’m going to examine what you need to do to get ready for your promotion and nurturing strategy, as you’ll need certain elements in place before you can begin making the most of your new content. From there, I’ll dig deeper into the details of each of the promotional methods I briefly described above.
Setting the Stage
Before you get too excited about promoting your content, there are a few structures and elements you’ll need to put in place. Why? First, you need to make sure that your content can be promoted effectively—for example, if your links aren’t working or if your content isn’t loading properly, you could have a major issue. Second, you’ll need to make it easy for your content to spread. Think of promotion as igniting a spark; you need plenty of kindling to turn it into a fire. Finally, you’ll need to do some research to make sure you’re targeting your content correctly in the first place.
Ensuring content visibility
Let’s start with the easy one: making sure your content is visible.
Picking the right content. Not every piece of content you produce is going to be worth the effort of promotion, especially if you’re paying for it with paid advertising. For your promotional efforts, you’ll want to develop the best, most in-brand content you can; this will maximize its potential reach. But beyond that, you’ll want to choose topics that are especially shareable, such as ones that form an emotional bond with your readers, and you’ll want to make sure there’s some kind of hook, like a clever headline or a strong visual component. On top of that, if you want your post to have an indefinite lifespan, you’ll want to choose “evergreen” topics that won’t ever be considered out of date or no longer relevant.
Timing considerations. Speaking of timing, you’ll want to time your content appropriately. If you’re running news-style topics, you’ll need to make sure all your promotional efforts are concentrated while the topic itself is still relevant.
You might also have seasonal content, which is only relevant during a certain part of the year; for example, you might have a number of topics about the holiday shopping season. If this is the case, you’ll only want to circulate these posts during those relevant times of the year, so keep them separate. Beyond that, try to capitalize on new trends, technology, news, and information as it rolls out when you plan to syndicate and distribute your material.
Browser and device compatibility. Next, you need to make absolute certain that your content is loading properly, across all browsers and devices, before you start distributing it. The last thing you want is to push a link out to your social media channels only to have your users arriving confused at a 404 page or a mess of improperly loading content. Browserstack is a great resource here; with it, you can simulate how any page of your website appears to various different devices and browsers. You’ll want to pay close attention to how your images and videos appear, and how your content layout changes from device to device.
Search optimization. You’ll also want to make sure your posts are optimized for search engines. I’ve covered the basics of on-site optimization before, so I won’t get into too much detail here. Basically, you’ll want to include strong keywords and phrases throughout your article, as well as in your headline, your title tag, your meta description, and any header tags you’re using. Ideally, when you promote your content, you’ll earn shares and inbound links, which can help your content rank higher in search results; but taking these optimization measures will ensure your content gets visibility for the right keywords in organic search results.
Social media icons
I’m always amazed at how many people miss this basic function. It’s ridiculously easy to include social media share icons on your website, so there’s no excuse not to do it. Every post you create should have clear, prominent share buttons that your users can click to share your material with their followers. This isn’t a direct promotional strategy, since you won’t be the one doing the work, but you should make it easy for users who don’t mind doing some of the work for you. Including these buttons can significantly increase the number of people who end up sharing your post, which exponentially increases your piece’s long-term potential. We use a plugin for WordPress called Social Warfare.
As another easy add, make sure that you have plenty of opportunities for your users to engage with your material directly. At AudienceBloom, we allow comments on all our blog posts to facilitate and encourage discussion, and your site should too. The more discussion your post generates, the more visibility it’s going to get, and the greater impact it’s going to have on all incoming users who are seeing it for the first time.
Any other forms of interaction you can include, such as interactive quizzes or calculators, can also be beneficial in securing more engagement and shares.
Know your audience
Finally, before I turn my attention to the individual strategies and platforms you’ll be using to promote your content, I want to stress the importance of knowing your audience. Before you go any further with your content promotion strategy, you need to know exactly who your target demographics are, what kinds of platforms they use, how they find their content, and how you can best reach them. Only with this information will you be able to choose the most effective platforms to support your strategy. If you aren’t sure where to get started here, the SBA has some great resources on how to conduct market research.
With that knowledge in mind and your site set up for long-term content promotional success, let’s start dissecting the strategies that can maximize the potential of your content strategy.
Social Media Syndication and Engagement
First up, we have the strategy that almost everyone thinks of first when it comes to content promotion: social media syndication.
Why is social media syndication so popular? Because it’s free, relatively easy to use, and it offers the potential of exponential growth. Ideal for both one-time and long-term content runs, I highly encourage social media distribution at a bare minimum for every brand. Let’s explore the reasons why, and how to use social media effectively.
Choosing the right platforms
First, understand that social media isn’t a magical gateway to more visibility and a bigger audience. Some platforms are going to matter to your brand far more than others, and it’s up to you to decide which ones those are. It’s not an easy decision, nor is it necessarily straightforward, but narrowing your scope of syndication to only the platforms that are most effective for your brand can help you maximize your return while cutting back on wasted time.
Demographic considerations. Your first job is to take a look at the demographic makeup of each platform, and weed out any platforms that aren’t a good fit for your brand. There’s basic information, such as age groups of users (Snapchat, for example, tends to skew toward teenagers and young adults), but also more behavioral and qualitative information to consider (LinkedIn, for example, is mostly used by working professionals). Other platforms, like Facebook, have a broad appeal and are worth pursuing for almost any business. If you’re looking for a good all-in-one source for social media demographic information, Pew Research has a fantastic breakdown.
What are your main goals? Next, consider what your main goals are, as different platforms are going to offer you different advantages. For example, if your main goal is to increase your brand visibility, a platform with high potential reach and impact would be good, so Instagram should be a major priority (thanks to its 400 million+ user base and visual nature). But if your main goal is to facilitate engagement and conversation, Instagram isn’t a good choice—LinkedIn might be better, since it’s more geared toward group-based interaction. If you’re trying to get more traffic alone, a platform like Facebook or Twitter, which caters to newsfeed scrolling and clicks to external sites, is best.
What does your audience want? You’ll also want to think about how your audience finds its content, and how it uses its social media platforms. For example, most young Instagram users want to use the platform to see cool images their friends have posted, get creatively inspired, or otherwise be entertained one image or video at a time. It’s probably not a good place to promote your eBook to this demographic in this way.
What are your competitors doing? If you’ve been thinking about the above points and you feel a little stuck, don’t worry. These are highly conceptual points, and they don’t always provide a clear answer. One of the best ways to get inspired is to see practical examples of people who are already engaging in these strategies; and the best way to do that is by looking at your competition. Make a list of some of your closest competitors, preferably some who you know to be engaging in a content marketing strategy. Take a look at how they’re promoting their content on social media—in what ways are they effective? In what ways are they ineffective?
What would complement this platform type? If you’re like most businesses, you’ll be using multiple platforms to support your content marketing strategy, but that doesn’t mean you should use them all in the same way. Think carefully about the types of content that would work best for each platform. For example, Pinterest and Instagram are surefire bets for anything with a solid visual component, but may be best avoided for purely text-based content.
Once you’ve got a loose strategy set in place, and a good understanding of what types of content promotion you’ll be pursuing, you can begin. Ultimately, there are two ways to promote your content in the social sphere, and the first is with initial promotion. With this strategy, you’ll be circulating a new piece of content to your audience for the first time.
Selling the post. Once you’ve proofread your post and formally published it on your website, it’s time to take it to your social media audience to see what they think. Choose which platforms you want to use, and draft a post for each of them. You’ll want to include a link and at least one image (or video) with each one; you can’t get traffic and readership without the link, and engagement rates tend to be higher with posts that have a visual element. It’s a common, but lazy technique to simply include the article’s headline as the opener—it may be in your best interest to optimize this text to really sell the post. For example, instead of “X ways to improve your content promotion,” you can tease your audience with something like, “this is the last post you’ll ever need for your content promotion strategy—find out how the pros do it!” Keep your audience in mind here, and make sure every platform you post on has something a little different.
Automated options. It’s worth noting that there are several automated options you can choose that will help you promote your latest content instantly. For example, NextScripts is a WordPress plugin that allows you to push your latest blog posts to any number of your external social media platforms instantly, without having to think about it. It’s a great tool to help you remember this important step, and it could accumulate to save you hours of work. Just make sure you get a chance to edit the posts before they go live.
Initial “boosts.” Simply pushing your content to social media should be enough to give it a little more visibility—especially if you already have thousands of followers. But still, you could use an extra “boost” to make sure your piece generates some initial momentum. There are a few options here; for example, you can ask your employees, friends, or family members to share the post with others. This will increase your share count, making the piece seem more impressive, and instantly connect your work with thousands of new eyes. You can also distribute the work via any personal brand social media channels you may have serving as peripheral outlets, such as the CEO’s Twitter account, or other employee social media accounts.
Facebook allows you to boost your posts (for a price) so they reach more of your fans, and this can be a great way to get an initial boost of syndication with your audience.
LinkedIn groups offer another great channel for getting initial visibility. Start by joining as many LinkedIn groups as you can that are relevant to your industry or business (as of time of writing, the limit is 50 groups per account). Once you’re accepted into the groups, participate in them and add your content to them as discussions. For an in-depth overview, see The Definitive Guide to LinkedIn Groups for Marketing.
(It’s a marathon, not a sprint!)
The other route for social media distribution is ongoing syndication. Here, you’ll be reposting your older pieces of content on a recurring basis. Obviously, newer content is better, but syndicating your old material will help it be seen by people who missed it the first time around, and may re-spark interest in your older concepts. Plus, you need to be posting almost constantly if you want to stay relevant in social media—and your archive of content can help you do it.
Timing considerations. There are a couple types of timing considerations you’ll need to bear in mind here. First, it’s not a good idea to repost your latest material the day after you initially promoted it. Instead, wait at least two weeks, preferably a month or longer, before distributing it again. This will help you avoid appearing too repetitive. Re-posting content on social media is beneficial, but it must be done strategically.
Second, you’ll need to make sure your streams of content posts are timed appropriately for each platform. For example, your Twitter users probably wouldn’t mind seeing you posting five times per day or more, but your Facebook users wouldn’t be nearly as happy about that. Find a rhythm that works for your audience and platform of choice.
Renaming and reframing. To seem fresher and less repetitive, it’s a good idea to retitle your work, or at least reframe it in a different context. For example, my example in the previous section led into an article with the phrase, “this is the last post you’ll ever need for your content promotion strategy—find out how the pros do it!” Adjusting it to something like “Your content promotion strategy is about to be transformed—check out these new amazing tactics!” will generate more interest and fewer eye-rolls.
Depending on your goals and your audience, you may also be able to target specific people, events, or opportunities in your content promotion strategy. These can be applied to either your initial or ongoing promotional efforts.
Special timing. You may choose to withhold promotion of a certain piece until a certain amount of time passes, or until something changes. For example, seasonal content, as I’ve mentioned before, performs remarkably better when promoted during its intended season. You may also dig up an older post that has become relevant recently due to a news event or a new development in your industry.
Audience targeting. Some platforms, including Facebook, offer special ways to target certain segments of your audience with your distribution. For example, Facebook offers a unique targeting feature that allows you to narrow your potential readers based on factors like age, geographic location, or even certain interests (much like you would in an advertising campaign). be sure to take advantage of this when you can.
On social media, you’ll also want to take the time to spark discussions. Having more users talking about your post will bring more attention to it, as it will likely rank higher in subscribers’ newsfeeds and become visible to extended followers of people engaged in the discussion. Here are three ways to do this:
Spark debate. Your first option is to spark a debate—and you know the Internet loves a good debate. As a first-line measure, you can write and syndicate topics that are naturally debatable, such as strong stances on industry developments or (if you’re respectful about it) political and economic issues. You could also pose a question to the crowd, even a simple one like “what do you think?” to get people talking. Be sure to get involved with the discussion yourself, as well.
Encourage anecdotes. You can also ask the crowd for anecdotes or examples that either confirm or deny the strength of your material. This may also help improve your own understanding of the topic. For example, if you post “X ways to improve your content promotion,” you can ask, “what methods of content promotion have you found to be the most successful?”
Ask for feedback. Finally, on a meta level, you can ask your users for feedback. A simple question like “what did you guys think of our latest webinar?” can instantly bring you a host of user comments (provided it was impactful enough). Not only will this bring more attention to your material, it will give you helpful criticism to incorporate into your next piece.
There you have it—social media promotion and nurturing in a nutshell. There’s a lot to learn about your social media efforts, and every business will be unique, so keep a close eye on the pulse of your strategy, and don’t be afraid to make adjustments.
Your next method is a similarly inexpensive one, with a similar path to potential growth. Start collecting subscribers for your email newsletter on the sides and footer of your website. The more subscribers you have, the more powerful this distribution channel is going to be.
Essentially, you have two potential angles for email marketing; regular newsletters or exclusive offers. Feel free to include both angles in the same email blast, cover them separately, or cover just one or the other.
The idea behind a regular newsletter is to take pieces of content, presumably from your on-site blog, and promote them via an occasional email blast. This will increase the visibility of your content and give your subscribers – who are already familiar with your brand and content – a chance to read, share, and engage with them. For example, consider this email blast which promoted one of our recent blog posts:
Timing. There are various studies that suggest different timings for email newsletters are the “most effective,” but as you can probably guess, the answer’s going to be different for every brand. For example, if you’re only making one new post a month, it doesn’t make much sense to send out a weekly newsletter, but if you’re publishing new content multiple times a day, once a week might not be enough to handle all your content. Think carefully, as you’ll want to be consistent so your subscribers come to learn what to expect. You can also send out different types of newsletters, such as a weekly and a monthly to keep your subscribers up-to-date.
Selection criteria. You’ll need to include at least one post in your newsletter, obviously, but generally you’ll want to include a handful—maybe three to five, with one post taking center stage. Which posts should you include? Which one should get top billing? You could opt to support the newest post more than the others, in an effort to give it more of an initial “oomph,” or you could opt to promote the concept you think is strongest. However, I encourage you to support the post that’s already seen the highest levels of engagement—it’s the one with the greatest potential. At AudienceBloom, we’ve tested both methods (promoting a single post and promoting a handful of posts in a “top 10” style format). We’ve found no clear winner in terms of open or click-through rates, so feel free to try these tests with your audience to figure out what they prefer.
Engagement and links to other strategies. You’ll want to include engagement opportunities in the body of your email, including calls to action that encourage readers to “read more” by clicking through to your site. It’s also a good idea to have immediate social share and/or comment icons that allow your subscribers to engage with your material right away.
“Exclusive” content offers
The other route with email marketing is to offer exclusive content through it, which users can only get (or get early access to) by being subscribers. The advantage here is that it makes subscribing to your email list more appealing, which will give you access to a greater number of users. However, it also means producing content with a slightly lower potential since you’ll be limiting its visibility, at least initially, to a small range of people.
Types of content to offer. Generally, if you’re offering exclusive content as a special value to your customers, you’ll want to make sure it’s actually valuable. For the most part, this means seeking long-form content and original research—“above and beyond” types of work that your competitors won’t or can’t offer. The more valuable it is, the higher retention rates you’ll get in your subscriber base, and the more people you’ll attract to begin with.
Making content available elsewhere. You probably aren’t going to piss anyone off if you eventually make your subscriber-exclusive content available elsewhere after an initial round of email blasts. This “early access” approach is best if you want to maximize the potential value of every piece you create; this way, you can still offer the piece on your site and promote and nurture it in other ways.
Influencer marketing has some of the greatest overall potential of any of the strategies on this list. The idea is relatively simple, though it’s going to manifest in a number of different individual tactics; you’ll find an “influencer” in your industry, a person of significant influence who has a huge social media following and a reputation to match, and you’ll leverage their influence to get more visibility for your content. Because these influencers sometimes have followers in the realm of 6 or 7 digits, you could instantly become connected to an enormous new audience segment—and it might cost you nothing but a bit of time and back-scratching.
Calling upon your sources
One of the best options you have to appeal to an influencer is to cite them in the body of a piece of content you’ve written; this shows that you’re sincerely interested in their material, gives them a benefit, and gives you an excuse to contact them, all in one. The goal is to have them see this citation, and then share the piece of content with their followers.
Possible angles of approach. There are a few different ways you can approach this. For example, you could take the pure complimentary approach and merely inform them how much you loved their previous work, hoping that they’ll respond in kind and share your material. You could also be more direct, and ask them to share it if they think the content is valuable—this is especially powerful if you’ve added something new to the conversation. Or, you could instead merely use this as an opportunity to introduce yourself—a starting point to a long-term relationship that you could tap for a future potential benefit. It’s up to you and the type of influencer you’re seeking.
The email. The easiest way to reach most influencers is via email, but there’s a downside to this medium—most influencers get hundreds, if not thousands of emails every day. They’re bombarded with different requests, from guest post to share opportunities, and most of them get filtered out as white noise. If you want to be successful, make sure you stand out by being direct, specific, concise, and friendly. Don’t waste their time, and don’t send something formulaic they’ve seen a million times already. If you need help figuring out an influencer’s email address, see my article at Forbes titled 9 Ways to Find Anyone’s Email Address. I won’t dig any deeper on this subject, but Kissmetrics has an awesome guide on this subject that’s worth a read.
The casual mention. If you want to forgo the email route altogether, you could instead opt for a casual mention on social media. Here, you’ll promote your content post as you normally would, but you’ll also tag the individual or authority you cited in the body of your work. If you’re lucky, or if you already have a rapport with this influencer, they’ll see you, and they’ll probably be willing to share your content from there—or at least comment on it.
Asking for a quote or testimonial
The above set of strategies is ideal if you’ve already created a piece of content and you want to use an influencer to help promote it. But you can also work with an influencer during the content development process to make your piece of content more powerful and influential from the beginning. Here, you’ll reach out to an influencer in advance for some kind of contribution, usually a quote on a given topic or a testimonial to validate your approach.
Appeal to the ego. Not all influencers are egomaniacs, but everybody likes to be complimented. When you make your request, be sure you appeal to their ego. Instead of saying something like, “I’m putting together an article and I need a quote,” say something like, “I’m a big admirer of your work, and I think a quote from you could help me take my work to the next level.” It shows you’re invested in the person, and that you aren’t just using them to make your content better. It also sets a positive tone for the interaction.
Know who you’re asking. You’ll also want to be careful about who you reach out to. Every influencer has a different niche of expertise, and a different disposition when it comes to working with others on content. If you know someone is notoriously aloof or difficult to work with, don’t waste your time. Similarly, don’t ask influencers for quotes on subject matter that isn’t relevant to their core expertise or main audience. Instead, target influencers you know to be willing to contribute to content, and make sure your topics are relevant to their interests.
Make it a value exchange. When making your request, make sure to play up the fact that this isn’t a favor; it’s a value exchange. You get a bit of extra value because a known influencer will be contributing to your work, but they’ll get a bit of extra value because they’ll earn a link from you and gain some visibility from your audience in the process. You probably need the visibility more than they do, but if you currently have a significant readership or following, it’s worth mentioning.
Use the appropriate medium. Not all influencers prefer to communicate in the same ways. See what you can do to find the best way to contact them; for example, you can peruse their main website and try to find a direct line of contact, such as a name-specific email address. Or, you can see how often they engage in discussion with other social media users to see if social media is a better way to get in touch with them. Make it easy and convenient for them to respond, as much as you can.
After including their quote in the body of your work, be sure to notify them when it’s formally published—they’ll want to see your finished work, and they’ll probably either share it or link to it.
Finding known interested parties
Another angle to leveraging influencers is to seek out authorities who you know have a vested interest in your topics. You can either do this in a top-down, or bottom-up approach. The top-down approach is to find an influencer with a vested interest in a particular topic or niche, then write a post you know he/she would be particularly interested in. The bottom-up approach is to write a topic you like, then hunt for an influencer to match it.
There are merits to both approaches, but either way, you’ll have to find an influencer eventually.
Active bloggers. One of the best ways to find an appropriate influencer is to search for active bloggers who have major followings. You can find these bloggers by searching for them directly via your topic of interest (on the web or on social media), or by finding them listed in directories or industry lists. Alternatively, you can use a tool like BuzzSumo to do extensive content and influencer research, and target individuals based on their respective influence scores.
Solving problems. As part of a top-down approach, you can peruse an influencer’s blog and note areas where their content seems insufficient, or where their followers are in need of more information. You may even find the influencers/writers themselves explicitly mentioning how they wish they had more information in a particular area. If you can step in and provide this information, or solve some problem the influencer or their audience is having, you’ll have an instant fast-track to visibility, and you can almost guarantee your piece will be promoted in some way.
Finding known interested parties can be valuable, but it’s also somewhat limiting; by its nature, you’ll be more restricted in who you can contact, and you may have to reach out to influencers one at a time, stifling your potential at least slightly.
Collaborating and exchanging
A final option you have in working with influencers is forming a kind of partnership. In some cases, this will manifest as a co-authorship, and in others it will merely be an exchange of favors, but either way you’ll be working directly with an influencer on material that promotes both of your content (or gives you both content that you can then produce).
Mutual research. One option is to pool your resources and work together on a final product, such as a piece of original research. A great example of this is the content study that Moz and BuzzSumo published late last year, analyzing the links and shares generated by more than a million pieces of content. This is an example of two industry influencers coming together, each with tons of resources and followers, so if you want to work with an influencer before you’ve earned your own reputation, you’ll need to bring something valuable to the table—an original concept or something unique that no one else can offer.
Interviews. Interviews are a much simpler form of content that are somewhat easy to produce. Hopefully, the two of you can get in the same room, but if not, audio interviews can be just as popular as video interviews. You’ll write up a number of questions beforehand, interviewing your influencer (and hopefully getting some sincere responses), and when it’s complete, both of you will have a vested interest in sharing the completed work with your respective followers. It’s a win-win form of content.
Guest posts. Getting even simpler, you could just ask a major influencer if you can contribute a piece of content to his/her blog. Many active bloggers would love the opportunity to host a new voice in their content stream, and you’ll get the benefits of additional visibility and reputation by association. You’ll just need to pitch an idea that’s helpful, original, in line with their brand, and valuable for their target audience. But don’t forget that guest posts work both ways—you could also ask an influencer to provide a guest post on your blog, especially if you already have an active readership.
Exchange agreements. After you’ve developed an informal relationship with an influencer, you can develop tacit exchange agreements. For example, you might each occasionally guest post on each other’s blogs, or you might share each other’s content on a regular basis. There’s a strong mutual benefit here.
There are two huge upsides to this method of influencer marketing for content support. First, it automatically gives you new content with a promotion system already in place. Who doesn’t want that? Second, this method of work naturally lends itself to ongoing partnerships and relationships. With it in place, you’ll be able to get at least one influencer in your corner and work with them on a number of projects in the future.
Inbound links and Internal Links
Another way to maximize the performance of your content is by building links—both external links pointing back to your domain and internal links in your own blogs cross-referencing your other posts. The former is designed to increase your content’s organic search rankings, sending more traffic their way. The latter is designed to keep your visitors on your site longer, while directing them to your best-performing content (not to mention further improving your on-site SEO).
Fortunately, internal links are a much simpler affair than manual link building. Because these links don’t pass PageRank from one domain to another, they’re treated with less scrutiny than off-site links. For the most part, these are intended to serve as navigational tools, giving users the chance to easily find your other posts and also to help Google understand how your internal pages relate to each other.
Internal links are a great way to encourage users on your website to your newest content to get eyeballs on it, along with the comments, shares, and engagements that will help it blossom.
With internal linking, there aren’t many rules to follow. Just link, as appropriate, to other posts you’ve written when you feel they’ll add value. As an example, take a look at the last few paragraphs and you’ll notice how I included internal links to other content on AudienceBloom.com.
If your site is on WordPress, you can use a plugin like SEO Smart Links to automatically link certain words or phrases to your content dynamically, throughout your website. It’s also a good idea to add links to your new content from other posts in the same category.
You can use HelloBar or OptinMonster (both of which are amazing tools) to create static bars, pop-ups, pop-ins, and modal boxes that display to visitors based on pretty much any criteria you choose (time on site, page currently being viewed, referral source, etc.). This can be a fantastic way to create specific, targeted, or even site-wide messages, banners, calls to action, or announcements to your visitors to drive visitors to whatever content you want to promote.
Content Communities and Social Bookmarking
Next up, let’s take a look at how content communities and social bookmarking sites can help you promote your content. These are two different concepts, but I’m tying them together because they serve a similar purpose; content communities exist to help content creators submit and promote their material (while also serving as a content discovery portal to non-creators), while social bookmarking sites are all about collecting and managing “bookmarked” links to interesting sites. Both involve users submitting content to a central location, which can be browsed and accessed by a content-hungry public. This setup lends itself perfectly to brands trying to generate more attention for specific pieces of content on their sites.
General Considerations for Social Bookmarking
Before you get involved with either type of submission site, there are a handful of considerations and best practices you’ll need to keep in mind:
Know your audience. Every social bookmarking and content community site is going to have its own collective community of followers and readers. Each site will have different areas of specialty, different expectations, and most importantly, different forms of etiquette. In bigger sites, you’ll find that communities self-regulate according to certain standards of production. If you generate any kind of benefit, you need to plug yourself into these circles and find out exactly what makes these users tick. Only submit content if you feel it’s a fit for your audience.
Never self-promote. Most of these communities frown upon individuals, or especially businesses, submitting content with the sole intention of promoting their brand. Users rely on these sites to find genuine, interesting content, and if they feel like they’re being spammed or advertised to, you’ll see a strong negative reaction from the user base—that is, if you aren’t red flagged and banned from the outset.
Understand the curve. You also need to be prepared for the visibility curve that’s inherent to most of these sites and communities. If you start to become popular, there’s a chance that your content could go viral; going viral in a massive community could generate hundreds of thousands to millions of new visitors. However, it’s incredibly unlikely that your content will go viral, and if it doesn’t you stand to gain little or nothing. It’s almost like playing the lottery, but at least there’s really no cost in buying the ticket, per se. So, you might as well go for it.
To illustrate some of these best practices and provide direction for your prospective campaign, let’s take a look at a handful of examples in each area:
First up, we have the social bookmarking site StumbleUpon. Rather than being hosted on a single site, StumbleUpon allows its users to browse the web as they normally would, and bookmark sites and pages that appeal to them. You can categorize these bookmarks according to interest, and then browse specific interests for random pages that other users have submitted. A system of up-voting and down-voting helps increase the circulation of pages that are collectively agreed to be valuable, and weed out ones that aren’t. This is a good way to index some of your content—but only if it appeals to a specific niche.
Reddit is a massively popular content discovery and social bookmarking site. Similar to StumbleUpon, users can submit pages they think are interesting, then browse and up-vote or down-vote content they encounter. If you can make it all the way to Reddit’s first page, you can expect a volume of traffic that could crash your site entirely; however, this is extremely hard to pull off. Instead, you’re better off submitting your content and engaging with users in one of Reddit’s many “sub-Reddits,” dedicated to niche interests.
Medium is a content community but with a long history and a large user base. If you’re just starting to dabble in the world of content marketing or content communities, it’s a good place to start. Again, the more specific an audience you target, the better.
These aren’t the only social bookmarking or content community sites out there—not by a long shot—but they are good examples that can help you get brainstorming and possibly get started in this wing of content promotion.
Generally, I avoid recommending paid advertising for online marketing, and it’s not just because I run an inbound marketing firm; it’s because in all the testing I’ve done, I’ve never been able to generate a positive ROI from paid ads. I’m not expert, but even after hiring paid advertising experts, it has simply never worked for my business.
For some, pay-per-click advertising can generate a positive ROI, but that ROI is capped and tied directly to the amount of money you’re putting in. In effect, paid advertising is inherently temporary; as long as you keep paying for it, you’ll be able to see a linear return of traffic. Inbound marketing, on the other hand, relies on the creation of permanent assets and compounding growth, which means your ROI could increase indefinitely, and even if you taper your spending, you’ll still continue reaping the benefits.
That being said, paid advertising can be used as a way to promote your content—especially if all you’re looking for is a short-term boost or to “seed” your new content with eyeballs. If you choose to use paid advertising for your content promotion, I highly encourage you to hedge your bets with a number of other, more long-term investments in your brand visibility.
Options for Paid Advertising
You have a few main options when it comes to using paid advertising to support your content marketing strategy:
Build a landing page for a major piece. This is best used for major, landmark pieces of content, like eBooks or reports on your original research. The concept is to create a dedicated landing page, offering your content as a downloadable digital asset in exchange for a bit of personal information (including an email address, which you can then feed into your email marketing strategy). This is effective because it promotes the value of your landmark piece and earns more subscribers for your email newsletter simultaneously. Because you’re reliant on new traffic and new subscribers to maximize the value here, paid advertising can be highly beneficial.
Direct traffic to a guide or report. You could also use paid advertising to direct traffic to a certain page of your site, especially if it serves as a guide or tutorial. If that’s the case, you can specifically target search queries or users that imply a need for such a guide, guaranteeing a level of relevance with your audience. You could also advertise a new report you’ve generated if it contains some original research; because your information will be time-sensitive, it’s worth the temporary paid boost.
Indirect ties. Of course, you could also use paid advertising to get people to your main site, or to a contact page or a landing page that simply promotes the brand. This won’t increase traffic or visibility for your content directly, but could indirectly lead more people to your blog once they’re inspired to research your company.
There are hundreds of options for paid advertising on the web, and even more if you count affiliate marketing and general banner ads. But for the sake of conciseness, I’m going to recommend only two heavy-hitting platforms for your campaign, and you can probably guess what they are—Google and Facebook.
Google AdWords has been the name to beat in advertising for many years, and it’s little wonder why. It has some major advantages as an advertising platform:
Volume. Practically everyone you know uses Google search on a daily basis. The search engine is home to billions of searches every day, and even the strangest niche keywords are capable of generating hundreds of impressions on a daily basis.
Keyword specificity. Google’s keyword research tools allow you to get extremely specific in terms of who you’re targeting. By selecting very specific keyword phrases, you can ensure a relevant fit for your content.
On the other hand, Facebook has developed its own advertising platform in a way that challenges Google with a number of unique advantages of its own:
Audience. Google has tons of search data, but Facebook collects data on people. It knows their demographic makeup, their friends, their likes and dislikes, and even some of their personal behaviors and tendencies. You can target these factors with extreme specificity, breaking free of the keyword grip.
Competition and budget. Though Facebook ad participation is climbing higher and higher, it’s still not quite as competitive as Google AdWords. That means you’ll generally pay lower prices for your ads and face less stiff competition.
Approachability. Though this is a purely subjective matter, I’ve found that most people view Facebook’s advertising platform as more approachable, or easier to learn than Google AdWords, which has a definite learning curve to its use.
Aside from paid ads, another feature which I mentioned earlier, but which is deserving of another mention, is Facebook post boosting. Facebook has shown a pattern of changing its algorithm to reduce the visibility of content posted on brand pages, in an effort to get brands to pay for visibility in newsfeeds. It’s working. With that said, brands can pay to boost their content to their fans, and it’s relatively inexpensive, as far as paid ads go.
In this section, I want to talk about all the different ways you can transform your content to further nurture its growth and visibility. Almost all the strategies I’ve mentioned thus far have been about taking your content, unchanged, and generating more attention for it. Now, I want you to think about changing your content itself to support furthering its growth; think of it as the difference between placing real estate ads to sell your house and making improvements to your house to increase its curb appeal. Both strategies will result in a higher likelihood of a bigger sale, but they take a different approach, and in many ways, complement each other.
Content as part of a series
Your first option is to turn your piece of content into a series; in other words, you’ll take the idea or format of that first post and expand it into a series of different posts. This is most effective when you have a topic you know has performed well—new parts of the series can capitalize on this popularity, simultaneously earning more immediate visibility and supporting both the past and future of the content series. There are a few ways you can do this.
Individual components. You could take the general topic and apply it to more specific topics, or change the specific focus of an article to another, related focus. For example, I recently wrote a post called “What Does the Perfect Instagram Post Look Like?” It has been pretty well received by AudienceBloom’s readership, so it’s a good candidate to turn into a series that focuses on each social media platform in turn, such as “What Does the Perfect Facebook Post Look Like?” or “What Does the Perfect Twitter Post Look Like?”
Regular features. You could also make a regular feature that keeps some concept, idea, or format consistent across multiple posts. The best way to describe this is through an example—so take Moz’s Whiteboard Friday series. Every Friday, Rand Fishkin or another Moz expert uses whiteboard notes and doodles, along with a spoken monologue to describe and explore some specific topic related to SEO and content marketing. Again, because of its consistency, each new post adds value to all the posts that came before it and all the posts that will come after it.
Taking advantage. No matter what kind of angle you choose for your series, the true power of a series lies in reflection and anticipation. Every time you create a new post, try to generate anticipation for your next post with a tease or a preview, and link back to your past works in the series.
Updating with new information
Rather than keeping up with an ongoing series, you could support one of your older posts by simply updating it with new information. For example, if you ran a survey in your industry in 2015 around this time, why not run a similar survey in 2016 to see what’s changed and what hasn’t?
In some contexts, this can serve as a long-term series, updated annually instead of monthly. But in other contexts, this could serve as a form of journalistic correction, or even the inclusion of new anecdotes and arguments. Making a new edit to an older piece gives you an excuse to market and distribute that piece all over again.
Revisiting as a follow-up
This tactic is great for any kind of post that looks to the future. I write a lot about the “future of content marketing” and the “future of SEO,” and I’ll be the first to admit that while some of my predictions are spot-on, some of them don’t come close to hitting the mark. Revisiting an older piece with a new analysis, such as checking to see which of your predictions came true, is a way of hearkening back to your older material, but also shows off your transparency to your audience, which generates trust.
Transforming into a new medium
As another method of transformation, you can take a piece of content that exists as one medium and transform it into another medium. In some cases, like video transcription, this will mean simply re-doing the material in another form, but in other cases, like generating an infographic from research data, this will require far more investment and creativity.
Creating your content within a new medium allows you to target new audiences, as some portions of the population have different content preferences than others. It’s particularly useful in targeting new platforms and syndication channels, such as generating an infographic so you can take advantage of Instagram.
Text transcription. If your original piece of content is visual or audio-only, you can create a written transcription to include with it. This won’t necessarily open up doors to new syndication channels, but it will help you optimize your page for SEO and serve the hearing impaired.
Images. Translating content to still images can be daunting, depending on the degree of effort you choose to put in it. Translating volumes of data into a single, digestible image demands significant imagination and work, but you don’t always need to go that far; consider offering simple doodles that illustrate your concepts and ideas. I often reference Tim Urban’s work over at WaitButWhy.com as examples, because he’s a natural-born content marketer. But take a look at just about any of his posts and you’ll see hand-drawn graphs, charts, and silly cartoons that illustrate points and provide clarity to his written thoughts. Head over to his post on cryonics and scroll down to see some examples of how he uses charts and illustrations in his text-based posts.
Audio. Audio is another format that’s always valid. If you have a video interview, for example, consider offering it as a downloadable MP3 file on your website. If you produce a stand-out piece of written content, consider recording yourself reading it out loud and offering it as an audio file.
Video. Producing a video from another medium is probably the most effort-intensive transformation on this list, but considering the ever-increasing popularity of visual formats, it’s well worth the trouble. If you’re just starting out, try using Microsoft PowerPoint to create a slide deck that summarizes your content, then record your audio for each slide (which can be your voice using a microphone), then convert the presentation to a video using PowerPoint’s native conversion capability.
Webinar. While you’re using PowerPoint, create a webinar. In fact, if you’ve created a slide deck and already recorded a video, you have a webinar! You can present your Webinar to a live audience, or you can record it and play back the recording to a live audience. The choice is yours! After your live webinar is over, be sure to make it downloadable/accessible via your website so people who missed it can still watch it down the line.
SlideShare. After you’ve created a slide deck, post it to Slideshare for further reach.
PDF. Possibly one of the simpler transformations on this list, you can also convert your blog posts into downloadable PDF files, to make them available as standalone resources rather than web pages to browse. For an example of this, take a look at our guide to link building. At the top of the post, you’ll notice that we’ve got a message indicating that the post can be downloaded as a PDF eBook. You can convert Microsoft Word documents to PDF files natively, or you can find a designer (using Upwork or another freelance marketplace) to create one for you.
The last two methods of transformation I’ll explore are related opposites. The first is anthologizing, the process of bringing multiple posts together to form a single unit. There are two main options for this:
eBook creation. You could dream up a broad concept that you can cover in detail by stitching together more specific, in-depth posts related to some element of that topic. For example, let’s say you’ve written individual posts about all the different stages of the sales cycle, individually. You could take that content, and with a bit of editing, adding, and subtracting, you could forge them together into a much bigger, comprehensive eBook, which you could then offer as “exclusive content” for your email subscribers or a downloadable PDF for your landing page. This is what I did for my eBook, The Definitive Guide to Social Media Marketing.
“Greatest Hits” style. As an alternative, you could just pick and choose some of the best posts you’ve written over the course of the year (or another timeframe of your choosing) and host them together in a “true” anthology; think of it like a “greatest hits” of your brand.
Breaking it down
The reverse process is less common, because it requires you to start with a bigger, more comprehensive piece of content like an eBook. If you have a piece of content like this, you can break it down into individual sections and chapters, separating out the individual, specific topics that comprise it. From there, all you’ll have to do is write up some revised introductions and conclusions (with some editing and formatting, of course), and you can transform your long-form content into more digestible blog posts and social media bites.
The goals of content marketing are visibility, reputation improvement, traffic, conversion, and alternative marketing support, and you can’t achieve any of those if your content exists in a vacuum. Content promotion and nurturing is your way to break out from that level of captivity.
There are so many options for content promotion and support, from maximizing initial reach to transforming and breathing new life into old pieces, that it’s virtually impossible to use all of them to support your strategy. Instead, try to specialize in a handful that seem to have the greatest impact for your brand. As always, you’ll need to experiment, measure your results, and refine your approach, but as long as you keep supporting your content with more visibility and more potential for growth, you’ll continue increasing your effectiveness and maximizing your returns.
Below I’ve included a content promotion checklist for you to use any time you publish a new piece of content. Here are the exact steps to take, in order, any time you publish a new piece of content!
Content Promotion Checklist
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If you want more in-depth resources on content marketing, be sure to check out these guides from Jayson DeMers:
On August 4th, 2016, AudienceBloom CEO Jayson DeMers presented this live webinar. Click the image above to start playing the full replay video of the webinar! The transcript below does not include the Q&A portion of the webinar, which many attendees said was their favorite part, so be sure to watch the video below to see it all!
If you like this webinar and want more in-depth resources on content marketing, be sure to check out these guides from Jayson DeMers:
Hey guys, my name is Jayson DeMers, and I’m the founder & CEO of AudienceBloom. AudienceBloom is a Seattle-based content marketing agency. We specialize in link building, a form of off-site content marketing, which we’ll cover here shortly, and we work with companies of all sizes to plan and execute link building and content marketing strategies.
Alright, let’s dig into the good stuff. In this webinar we’re going to cover the following topics:
What content marketing is
Benefits of content marketing
On-site as well as off-site content marketing,
And building an audience
I actually got the idea for this webinar after conducting a survey and learning that the majority of AudienceBloom’s audience wants to learn more about content marketing—it was the highest-requested topic that we cover in 2016, so I figured, where better to start than at the ground level?
So, this is content marketing 101, and the first thing I want to do is talk about the concept of content marketing, because it might be a little bit different than what you’re used to, or what you thought content marketing was.
Obviously, content marketing is all about content.
This graphic includes 9 different examples of content, and there are probably dozens more still. “Content” can mean written content, visual content, video content, audio content— really, anything that communicates with your customers and holds some sort of value. We’ll dig a little deeper into what constitutes that “value” later on, but for now this is a good working definition.
The goals of content marketing are to make your brand more powerful and visible, resulting in higher conversion rates, more traffic, more leads, and more sales. In essence, we’re just talking about higher traffic and higher conversion rates, which are the two elements of the online revenue formula.
But there are a few misconceptions that lead people astray when it comes to content marketing.
The first is that there’s a formula to content marketing that works for everyone.
Some people have been pitched the idea as a fad, or a kind of gimmick, where some agency or expert has told them content marketing is a guaranteed path to success for any business. There are a lot of objective benefits that almost any company can take advantage of, but this line of thinking implies that content is a straightforward, plug-and-play type concept, and it’s not.
It demands a lot of hard work and adjustment over time—and because every company is different, there really is no set formula that works 100 percent of the time. There are some major considerations and useful strategies that any business can implement, but there really is a trial-and-error component to a lot of this.
Another major misconception is that content marketing is a standalone or isolated strategy, and again, this isn’t really the case. Technically, you could stand to benefit with just a blog, or just a whitepaper series, but the true power of content marketing is better unlocked when it’s made an integral component of a much wider web of interrelated strategies.
For example, content marketing can work closely in conjunction with an SEO strategy; if you know how to optimize content for search engines, you’ll end up ranking higher for more keywords, and appearing in search results for more keywords overall, which will increase the visibility of your content. Knowing the ins and outs of social media marketing gives your content more reach, increasing its value even further. Email marketing, even paid advertising—there are a lot of options here to expand the reach of your content.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the benefits that content marketing has to offer the average business.
The benefits of content marketing are more than just giving your customers more value, and it can actually improve your business in several different areas. Obviously, the bottom line is getting more money and more customers, but there are both direct and indirect paths to those goals.
Brand visibility. Brand visibility is about how much exposure your brand is getting. Just having your name in front of more people, and top-of-mind to a wider portion of your target demographics is valuable. It means people will be more likely to buy from you when it comes time to make a decision, and may even help you get some word-of-mouth attention. You’ll get this by publishing more content in more places and getting it shared in bigger and bigger circles.
Brand reputation. Brand reputation is similar, but distinct from brand visibility. Rather than a sheer volume of attention your brand is getting, reputation is about what people think of you. So with good, informative content, people are going to see you as more authoritative in your industry. You have this kind of subtle way of bragging through content—look at how much of an authority we are on this subject! Look at how much we love our customers! And since it’s indirect, not an advertisement, people trust it more.
More time spent on-site. Publishing more content for your website makes your website bigger, with more indexed pages in search engines. And as long as you keep your readers interested, more is better. It means the average user’s going to spend more time hopping between your pages, learning more about your brand, and you’ll have more opportunities to eventually nail down a conversion. Speaking of which…
Higher conversion rate. Conversions are where you make your money, so obviously the more you get, the better. You might have a landing page or contact page, or product pages doing a lot of the work for you here, but don’t underestimate the power of a call-to-action in a well-written blog article, or Youtube video, or podcast radio show. Do this consistently, and your conversions will go way up. But content marketing doesn’t just give you more opportunities for conversions, it actually increases the rate at which visitors convert, because it strengthens the credibility, authority, and trustworthiness of your brand.
SEO visibility and traffic. So, there are a couple of search effects that come with a good content marketing strategy. First, as you’re publishing more content, you’ll have more pages on your website, which is going to make your site more relevant for a wider range of search queries.
I like to think of every new published page of content as like dropping another hook in the water. The more you have, the more opportunities for “bites” you have from search engines! But if the page is the hook, then the bait is the quality of the content itself; and without good bait, you won’t catch any keepers. So don’t try to publish content with the mindset of only getting as many hooks in the water as you can – the better the bait, or quality of that content, the better the catch will be.
The other main SEO benefit is the inbound links and brand mentions, which can be linked or unlinked, that result from content marketing. Much of your content marketing is going to happen off-site, which I call off-site content marketing, so that presents this opportunity for you to link back to your own domain. Even unlinked mentions of your brand name are thought to have an impact on SEO.
Referral traffic. Those same links and mentions can result in really good referral traffic over time. I’ve found that providing links to relevant articles or eBooks on AudienceBloom.com within the context of other articles I’ve written is a great way to drive referral traffic.
Social traffic. Social traffic works very much the same way. As people read and share your content, you’ll see traffic from those social media channels.
Greater customer retention. This is especially true for certain industries, like SaaS, where your customers need more information to stay engaged with your brand, such as new strategies, or even help and troubleshooting guides. Give your users what they want and what they need, and they’ll stay loyal for life—and as we all know, customer retention is crucial for long-term growth.
Now, there’s one more major benefit to content marketing, but it kind of warrants its own section, so I’ve got it on another slide here.
Okay, so here we have the principle of compounding interest as it applies to content marketing. In my opinion, this is what really separates content marketing from the pack in terms of different marketing strategies. Now, in the financial world, you have this principle of “compound interest,” where you earn interest on an investment, let’s say, at a consistent rate, but every time you earn interest, you’re actually earning interest both on your principal investment and the other interest you’ve already earned. This creates an exponential growth curve, rather than a linear one, which results in tremendously better long-term benefits.
Now, here’s a graph that shows ROI from traditional paid advertising, where you’re paying for clicks, visits, or even just impressions—and the price you pay doesn’t really change much. You earn X value for every Y dollar you invest, and then the transaction is complete. Maybe you retain some of those clients you earned, depending on what type of service or product you offer, but once you stop funding the ad, it disappears entirely and any traffic from it stops immediately.
Comparing the two graphs, you can see that PPC has the advantage for short-term value, but content marketing is the clear winner when it comes to long-term value.
With content marketing, you have a couple principles that make content closer to a compound interest returning investment than a linear one.
First, you have this concept of permanence. In a traditional ad campaign, it stays up for as long as you pay for the ad, but when you stop funding it, it goes away forever. in content marketing, you produce a piece of content, share it, perhaps throw a small marketing budget towards it to get eyeballs on it, and then you never have to spend any more effort or money on it—but it keeps earning you traffic, leads, sales, and all the other benefits we talked about over time, especially if you syndicate it after its initial publication (I’ll get into that more later).
Second, you have this ballooning effect of popularity. When you first start out, nobody’s really going to know who you are, but eventually you’ll develop a reputation, people will recognize your brand, or your name, if you decide to use your personal brand, and you’ll start to build a steady readership and social media connections with your readers and other influencers. Over time, every new piece you publish, even if you put the same amount of effort into it as your other pieces, is inherently more valuable because you’ll be able to leverage a pre-existing and constantly growing audience and network of other influencers.
Think of a site like TechCrunch or Mashable, who can publish a single article about just about anything, and get hundreds or thousands of social media shares. It’s not necessarily because the content was so amazing that it deserved that many shares, it’s just because those brands have developed the loyal readerships, trust, and influencer networks that balloon the power of every piece of content they publish.
Collectively, these factors make it so content marketing pays off in a non-linear growth pattern, which means its long-term returns are just amazing.
Your sense of scale and ballooning authority are valuable at the later stages of growth, but when you first start out, you’re going to feel like you’re on an island. You’re going to have very few (if any) readers and a very (very) small audience. There’s no getting around this. Content marketing is the best strategy for long-term payoffs, but in the short-term, it’s unlikely to give you instant results. You’ve got to be committed and patient for this to work.
As you continue your campaign, and your content catches the interest of readers through paid or organic channels, you’ll grow your audience steadily. Think of it as building roads and bridges to the island you started on.
Alright, now let’s take a look at how you can actually build a strategy like this. I’m going to be breaking this down into a few main sections, but the two most prominent are ‘on-site’ and ‘off-site’ content.
So your on-site content is everything that you have on your website itself. Now, there are a few main considerations you’ll have for the type of content you’ll want to provide here:
Original. You want to make sure that nobody else has done this before. If you publish something that someone else has already covered, people aren’t going to have any reason to read it. So, how can you make it original? That’s up to you. Do some original research, come up with a unique idea, experiment with something new—just make it stand out by making it different.
Practical. I could write about how much I love ice cream, but nobody needs to know that. However, people do need to know about content marketing and how to start up their own content campaigns. On some level, your content should be practical for your audience—give them advice, tools, or information that’s useful to them.
Detailed. Nobody wants that fluffy content where there are a lot of words on the page, maybe, but it’s not really saying anything useful. Give your readers concrete examples, creative illustrations, and specific data points. The more detailed you are, the better.
Engaging. You can have good content that still isn’t engaging—you need to grab your readers’ attentions and get them really invested in your content. You can do this by making it more visual, or making it more entertaining. The real key here is to make your content more approachable overall.
Consistent. I don’t mean writing the same thing every week, because obviously you still need to be original, but there has to be some kind of similar thread between your content—the same voice, the same style, the same realm of expertise—give your readers something they can grow familiar and become comfortable with. That will keep them coming back for more.
These are the five main areas you’ll really want to zero in on, and they apply to your off-site content, too.
Your on-site content is where you’ve got to start. Nobody’s going to start accepting guest posts and submissions from you or your brand until you have some published proof of your content’s quality and your brand’s expertise. You can’t just show up claiming you’re an expert; you have to show people that you know what you’re talking about, and usually that means building up a cache of on-site content, sort of like a resume.
On-site content also gives you more creative liberties than external publishers will. There are no requirements to follow (other than the ones you set), and you won’t be limited in terms of how often you want to publish, word counts, things you can and can’t say, etc.
Beyond that, on-site content gives you all kinds of opportunities for customer acquisition and retention—you’ll be able to include more calls to action, give your customers more value for their money, and really just strengthen your current customers’ perceptions of who your brand is and how good your products and services are.
The best way to publish on-site content is with a blog on your website, and that’s why I’ve pictured the AudienceBloom blog here. Make your blog your content hub. I recommend using WordPress because it’s very user-friendly, and can be augmented with a ton of useful plugins.
Off-site content, on the other hand, is a different animal in terms of the steps you need to take to execute it.
The basic idea of off-site content is to publish content on behalf of your brand (usually a personal brand) on other publications. These publishers should be related to your industry or somehow reach your target audience. It’s a long, slow, methodical process to guest post on some publications, but there are a ton of benefits to doing so.
What you see here is my author profile and archive at Inc.com, one of the places I contribute occasional columns. The visibility you can get for your personal brand and your company brand when you’re represented on national publications like this is well worth the effort.
Off-site content is where you’ll get the real brand visibility and reputation boosts; getting your brand’s content featured on reputable publications within your industry will improve your brand awareness, trust, credibility, conversion rates, and all the other benefits we covered previously as well.
Off-site content is also a perfect opportunity to build links that point back to your website. These pass trust and authority to your site, which makes your site rank higher in search engines for relevant queries.
Now, obviously, there are a few challenges to off-site content that on-site content just doesn’t have. You can write good content, sure, but meeting the quality, tone, formatting, and other requirements of external publishers can be a headache. But if you keep at it consistently, and you build your reputation as a great content producer, you’ll easily be able to overcome those challenges.
Okay, so we’ve talked on-site content and off-site content, and I’ve mentioned that one of the most important factors for content of any type is visibility.
Your job, with any content you produce, should be to maximize its readership in whatever way you can. Over time, that’s gonna mean building up an audience of loyal followers or readers, so that every new follower you earn is another new reader for every piece of content you publish and syndicate thereafter.
There are a few keys to doing this successfully: Post regularly, respond, engage, and incorporate feedback. Let’s discuss each of these briefly.
Post regularly. People aren’t going to follow your brand or subscribe to your page unless you’re posting new content on a regular basis.
Respond. Alright, remember the “social” in social media. If you want people to stick around, you need to show them that you’re listening as well as talking. When someone reaches out to you, or mentions your post, or asks you a question, respond quickly and be personal about it. Show that you really are a person behind the brand.
Engage. If you want new readers, you need to find them and get in front of them. That means being a part of more external conversations, and quite possibly, reaching out to new individuals you think might be interested in your material (at least at first).
Incorporate feedback. Your users aren’t going to like everything you post, but you need to use their feedback to constantly make your content better. This is going to make all your content better, which is awesome, but more importantly it shows that you value your audience and their feedback.
For now, I want to address this idea of getting started from scratch, which I’ll admit, definitely isn’t easy. When you’re launching a new campaign, you’ll have no followers, no external publications, no blog, and heavy investment before you start seeing any meaningful results.
So, where and how do you actually get started? I recommend starting with your on-site blog. Let’s say you reach out to a new publisher to get some of your material featured. Where do you think they’ll look first to see if you’re the real deal? Probably your company blog. Let’s say you reach out to an influencer in your industry on Twitter. After they check out your tweets, where are they going to look next? Probably your blog. So, as soon as possible, fill that blog up with the best content you can muster—think of it as a kind of resume you’ll use to get your foot in the door for all the off-site content marketing you’re going to do.
From there, start with relationships you might already have, even if they’re not that strong or relevant. For example, you might have a connection on LinkedIn with an editor who works for the trade magazine you wish you could get featured in. Work your network to get an introduction, or introduce yourself through LinkedIn or email. Start small, and work your way up to bigger and better publishers and connections. It takes time and persistence, so don’t expect it to come all at once, and don’t give up when your outreach goes unanswered. Use Boomerang for Gmail to remind you when someone hasn’t replied to your email after a few days so you can reach back out to check in. Be persistent and don’t give up until you get an answer, whether it’s “yes” or “no.”
In the same way, you can leverage the people you already know to give your social media profiles a leg to stand on. I’m talking about your friends, your family members, your employees—whoever you can get to follow your social media profiles. Now, social media isn’t a numbers game—you don’t just want any followers, you want good followers with the potential to actually become customers. But when you’re first starting out, people may judge you based on those numbers, so give yourself a starting platform here with some initial followers or likes.
Also, when you publish and syndicate new material, have these people share it with their own friends and followers—it’s the fastest way to start picking up some new connections. Don’t be afraid to ask for follows and likes!
There’s one final but super important point I want to make. Your readership isn’t just a mass of people to broadcast your content to—they’re independent thinkers with thoughts and feelings on your material, and you’d do well to listen to them. You have to nurture your relationship with your audience if you want your readers to stay loyal. That means giving them the best possible content you can, and readily addressing their needs, concerns, and questions.
There should also be a degree of escalation in all your relationships, not just with your audience. Your publishers, your influencers, your readers, all of it—if you want to keep your momentum moving forward, you have to steadily increase your overall investments.
I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface about what content marketing is and how to do it effectively. I’ve touched on the basics about what makes a good post, or about how content marketing affects SEO, or how to syndicate your content to best serve your audience. These are all topics that merit their own webinars, but I’m hoping this introductory lesson was more than enough to cover the kind of “start to finish” or “10,000 foot view” I wanted to achieve.
That being said, I’ve covered pretty much everything I had, and I’d like to open the floor to questions.
The true power of a content marketing campaign only makes itself clear with a suitable investment of time. Initially, you won’t see much in the way of results; your readership will be small, your authority will be negligible, and your content archives will be scarce. However, each new piece you create will serve as a semi-permanent landmark, and each new reader you attract will feasibly stick around for the long haul. These features make content marketing a strategy with the potential for exponential growth—provided you’re able to grow your efforts proportionally.
Most people “get” content marketing conceptually, and may even be able to piece a basic strategy together, but people really get thrown off when they try to devise a strategy for long-term growth. It’s a confusing process, often manifesting in fits and starts, but you need to be able to predictably control it if you want to eventually reap the benefits.
To help you better understand this growth process, I’ve split the “typical” content marketing timeline into five key stages of growth:
During this stage, you’ll be laying the groundwork for your campaign. When it starts, most of your work will be conceptual, manifesting as plans, strategies, and outlined processes for success. From there, you’ll be creating the building blocks for your vision, such as designing your blog, filling out your social media profiles, establishing your author profiles, and filling up your website with a suitable archive of posts. You’ll need these materials to work with as you start building your strategy, so you’ll be moving forward, but don’t expect a huge influx of readers and fans from the start.
The next phase of growth is all about establishing certain “anchor points” for your campaign—think of these as the main spokes of webbing a spider would use to build a web. These can come in a variety of forms; for example, you might build up an initial following of a few hundred people by tapping your close contacts. You might create one or two “landmark” pieces, like eBooks or comprehensive guides. You could start working with one or two major publishers, developing your own powerful outside channel. The point is to secure some major mechanisms for growth early on.
Here, you’ll start playing around with the tropes, methods, and tactics you’ve started growing accustomed to. It’s probably the biggest and hardest leap for content marketers to make, since it’s so easy to get used to your initial series of habits. Once you start seeing decent results, it’s common for marketers to just keep doing what they’ve been doing, but if you want to grow, you need to strive for something bigger and better. Experimentation comes in a variety of forms, all of which can be helpful. For example, you might try to appeal to a new audience, tinker around with a new medium or channel, or get yourself featured in a new line of publishers. Think outside the box here, as the further outside your comfort zone you go, the more you’ll stand to learn about what’s possible in content marketing—and of course, measure everything to a rigorous degree.
Experimentation is inherently volatile—you’ll get some major wins, some major losses, and some results you aren’t quite sure what to do with. The stabilization phase of growth is all about sorting out what does and doesn’t work, and piecing together a strategy that’s cohesive, and relatively stable. It’s not going to come quickly or easily, as experimentation offers much more flexibility, but what you want is a stable, secure line of revenue, so a stable, secure means of content production and promotion is what you need to complement it. First, cut off your experimentation for the time being (you can always come back to this later), then retain and refine any bits and pieces of strategies you found to be especially helpful. Mold these into a new wing of your strategy, and start keeping it consistent. As more readers grow used to this approach, you’ll earn more loyalty and a more predictable return.
After stabilizing your campaign, the final phase of growth is sheer scaling—taking what you have and making it “bigger” in some way. In concept, this is a simple matter of quantitative growth; if you produce five posts a week, shoot for seven. If you have a network of eight publishers, shoot for a dozen. You’ll want to step up your posts, your syndication channels, your following, and your publishers, all iteratively, and all with the strategies you’ve already proven to be successful. This demands significant investment, but the results are worth it.
These five stages aren’t universal, and they aren’t as concretely divided as they would seem on the surface. As I mentioned earlier, it’s more likely that your path to content marketing growth will happen in fits and starts, launching forward when you least expect it and stagnating even when you pour extra effort in. You’ll also experience blurrier lines between each phase, sometimes skipping around, and sometimes repeating phases (especially phases three through five).
What’s important here isn’t the order or precise boundaries of growth, but the general trends and influencing factors. These will help you set better priorities, aim for more specific goals, and ultimately push your content strategy toward the appropriate next stages.
It’s not enough to merely have a content marketing strategy. No matter how perfectly thought-out your approach was, how brilliant your tactics are in theory, or how successful you are in executing your campaign, there’s still one more step preventing you from fully reaping the rewards of content marketing: review.
Reviewing your procedures and results is a necessary step if you want to know whether all your efforts were worth it; skipping this process is akin to throwing darts at a dart board, blind, and never checking to see if you hit the target. Not only will you remain ignorant of whether or not your content strategy is working, you’ll never gain the opportunity to make improvements, because you’ll never figure out what weaknesses you can compensate for or which strengths you can enhance.
There’s a big hurdle most companies face before even beginning a content marketing audit, however: the many moving parts of a content marketing strategy. Though the basic concept of content marketing is simple (attracting more people to your brand through the publication of unique, valuable content), the reality touches many areas at once. This makes measuring the effectiveness of your campaign and diagnosing potential problems equally difficult.
For example, let’s say you’re trying to figure out how much value your content is brining you. Which channels do you look at? Theoretically, content can bring you organic traffic from search engines, direct traffic from repeat visitors, referral traffic from outside sources, and social traffic from your social media platforms. Besides that, how do you measure brand loyalty you’ve gained, or what kind of impressions you’re making?
The Right Tool for the Job
It’s tough to hit all these points with only one tool, and even harder to reduce them all to quantitative values, since so many content effects are both qualitative and long-term. Rather than explore the many types of tools you can use to evaluate different angles of your campaign (perhaps I’ll save that for a future post), today I want to narrow my focus to one tool that can help you get a “big picture” snapshot of your campaign. It’s highly effective, easy to pick up, and best of all, it’s free for everyone: it’s Google Analytics, and we’re going to use it to audit your content marketing strategy.
We’ll be getting into some of the measurable effects your content has, including how much traffic it generates, a bit later, but first, let’s take a look at how well your posts are performing in general. Performance, or “success” here is hard to pin down, since there are so many factors you’ll want to consider:
What kind of impression your content leaves your users with.
How engaged users are with your content.
These are mostly qualitative measures, but we can indirectly infer how your content is performing with a couple of key areas in your Analytics dashboard.
How to Measure
We’re going to be looking at the “Behavior” section of Analytics, where we can learn how people are accessing and engaging with your site. To start, open up the Site Content submenu and click on All Pages.
Here, you’re going to see a pretty massive breakdown of all the pages of your site, along with a number of metrics relating to those pages. At the top will probably be your “main” navigation pages, such as your home, about, and contact pages, but as you scroll down (and expand the chart to account for all pages in your sitemap), you’ll start finding your individual blog pages.
There are a number of dimensions to look at here:
Pageviews, which tell you how many people visited this page of your site.
Unique pageviews, which tell you how many “unique” visitors you had for this page (i.e., no repeat traffic).
Average time on page, which tells you how long a user has spent on this page.
Entrances, which tell you how many people used this page to first enter your site.
Bounce rates, which tell you how many people left this page after viewing it as the first page of your site.
Exit rates, which tell you how many people left this page after viewing it as the final page of your site.
You should also note the degree of control you have over this menu. For starters, you can adjust the date parameters to reflect a certain time period. If you want a “zoomed out” look at your content strategy overall, you can set this to months or years, but for most people, the past month is a good range to look at. You can also segment the traffic that appears in this breakdown, which is extremely useful for determining your content’s effectiveness in different sectors. For example, you can look at how only your social-originated traffic engages with your content. Play around with your options here.
There are a handful of key indicators to look for here to evaluate your content performance:
Post popularity. Which posts are receiving the most pageviews? This report filters pages by this statistic by default, so take a look at your top-performing posts. What do they have in common? Similarly, which posts seem to be underperforming? This will give you a general indication of how attractive these topics are.
Time on page. This is an excellent measure of how interested people are in your content after visiting it, and will tell you how “good” your material is. This is different from initial attractiveness; for example, let’s say you have a post with only a handful of pageviews but the time spent on page is extraordinarily high. This tells you your headline isn’t very attractive, but your content is engrossing. In the opposite scenario, your headline may be powerfully compelling, but your content can’t back it up.
Exit rate. Your goal should be to have your content be so interesting, or so positive that it encourages people to explore your site further. If your exit rates are unnaturally high, it means your content isn’t doing a good job of making people interested in your brand.
We’ll be taking a look at a few more “performance” metrics in the “bottom line” section of this guide, but these should get you started in the right direction.
The SEO side of content is at once harder and easier to explore; you can gather tons of data about how you’re doing from a search optimization perspective, but it’s difficult to tie this specifically to your content marketing campaign. For the most part, you’ll have to look at the broad strokes of your SEO efforts, and make adjustments to your content strategy to compensate for them. For example, if your rankings and organic traffic are stagnating, you know something needs to change in your approach.
How to Measure
There are a few different places where you can learn about the state of your SEO campaign (and a ton of third party tools that can dig even deeper), but we’re interested in the big picture here. Let’s start by taking a look at the Acquisition section, where we can learn about where your site traffic is coming from. Start by heading to the Overview section.
Here, you’ll see a handy breakdown of the four main sources of traffic your site receives: direct, referral, social, and organic traffic. You can compare and contrast various metrics related to these traffic streams, which is valuable, but for right now, we’re only interested in organic traffic (traffic that comes from search engines).
Click on “Organic Search” here, and you’ll see a breakdown of your traffic similar to the breakdown you saw for all the pages of your site, with information about the visitors coming in.
On the left, you’ll see a “keyword” section which may provide you information about the most popular queries that led people to your site. However, Google has gotten stingy about providing this information (since it prompts people to try and manipulate their ranks). For the most part, you’ll see “not provided” listed here. There are some ways around this data hurdle, especially with third party tools, but again, we’re looking at the big picture here.
The biggest factor you want to monitor is how your organic traffic is developing. With a proper and upward scaling content strategy, your organic traffic figures should increase month over month (with occasional discrepancies for seasonal changes or random fluctuations). If you aren’t seeing this growth, or if you suspect something’s wrong, you can gather that at least one of the following is true:
Your onsite SEO is flawed. This is unrelated to your content strategy, but is important to note.
Your onsite content has dropped in quality. This could result in less engaged traffic, lower authority measures, or fewer inbound links, all of which could negatively affect your SEO growth.
Your offsite content has slowed or dropped in quality. Your offsite content efforts are responsible for building the links that pass authority to your site. If there’s a flaw in the quality of your material, your sources, or your patterns of growth, your momentum could suffer.
You’ve failed to scale. As your business climbs in ranks, gaining more and more visibility, you’ll have to pour more and more effort in your strategy if you want to continue growing. Of course, if you’re happy where you’re at, it’s possible to maintain your traffic flow with consistent continued efforts—but why stay satisfied with where you are, when you have the chance to grow even further?
A competitor has emerged. Your drop in organic traffic could be the result of a newly emerged competitor, and there’s not much you can do about that other than step up your strategy to fight back against their arrival.
Any of these could be the root problem, and it’s up to your personal insights to figure out which. With a little digging—such as evaluating your backlink profile to determine the state of your offsite strategy, or conducting competitive research to see how your content stacks up against a competitor’s—you should be able to pinpoint the problem further. Otherwise, take note of your traffic figures and count them as a beneficial effect of your strategy. If you’re consistently growing, month after month, you know you’re doing something right!
This section assumes you’re using social media to syndicate, promote, or otherwise enhance the visibility of your content marketing strategy—as well you should. One of social media marketing’s most significant benefits is increasing the reach of your onsite material, and it also helps you realize how effective your campaign is at attracting attention. It’s hard to filter out non-content-related social factors as influential here, such as engaging in conversations with other influencers or responding to social comments; however, these can be interpreted as forms of content in their own right.
How to Measure
Remember that Acquisition Overview where we just looked at organic traffic? Now we’re going to take a look at social traffic. You’re going to see a fairly similar chart here, broken down by the individual social media source:
The basic stats here are going to be familiar. Sessions, new sessions, new users, bounce rate, and pages per session are the main indicators here. You can also click into any of your social media profiles for more details about the types of people visiting your site and what their resulting behavior is.
If you’re engaged in an offsite SEO component to your content strategy (i.e., guest posting), you’ll also want to take a look at the referral traffic here. This is going to tell you where most of your external-link-based traffic is coming from, distributed by source. This is useful for determining not only which publishers are sending you the most traffic, but which posts are resonating with which segments of those audiences the best.
Your takeaways here will be dependent on a number of variables, so I’ll try to keep this high level:
Your most effective social distribution channels. This is an easy metric to spot, and should speak volumes about your target demographics. However, this is also dependent on how active you are on this platform and what tactics you’re currently using; for example, you might have tremendous potential on Instagram, but if you aren’t using it correctly, it may appear at the bottom of your list.
The appropriateness of your content strategy for each platform. Is there one platform that seems to be underperforming compared to the others, or one platform that’s a rock star? It probably means the appropriateness of your strategy matches its demographics better than the others. You may need to tailor your content strategy a bit differently to account for this.
Which topics perform best per platform. Once you drill down to the individual platform metrics, you’ll able to uncover which content topics are performing best on each platform. You can use this information to customize your content distribution to appeal to these segments. For example, you might find that your Twitter audience prefers “quick tips” style posts, while your Facebook audience prefers in-depth analyses.
Platform-specific engagement rates. Don’t forget to look at metrics like bounce rate and pages per session on a per-platform basis, as well. You’ll probably find that some of your platforms have higher engagement rates, which may mean that this platform’s demographics are closer to your brand’s target audience, or that your content strategy is simply better in these areas.
Ultimately, you should be able to use this data to perfect your platform-specific strategies, and reallocate your resources to favor the most useful platforms to your brand.
Traffic and engagement figures are nice, but what really matters to the overall “value” of a content strategy is how many conversions you’re able to earn. Once you calculate the value of a conversion (either with an average sale, or average close ratio and customer lifetime value, depending on the nature of your conversion), you can measure conversions and assign a roughly accurate figure to the overall ROI of your campaign.
How to Measure
First, you’re going to want to create “goals,” which are Analytics’s way of helping you identify, categorize, and track the meaningful conversion actions throughout your site. You can track things like checkouts, form signups, or other forms of interaction (like playing a video or clicking a specific link). Head to the admin section of your dashboard, and click on the Goals section.
The process is relatively straightforward. Unless you’re doing something abnormal or crazy, you can use one of Google’s many approachable templates to build a goal that suits your needs.
Once your goals are created, you can track them in a handful of different ways. From the highest-level perspective, you can track your goals globally just by accessing the goals section and looking at each of your constructs. You can even assign a value to a goal to make your at-a-glance value even more apparent.
You also have the ability to track goals as they relate to different reports you’ve already generated. For example, in our page breakdown (in the section on topic performance near the top of this guide), you can evaluate how many people from a specific page ended up completing each of your goals, which can tell you the conversion potential of each blog post you produce.
The biggest takeaway here is the conversion potential of your content strategy. When viewed as a percentage, you’ll be able to see exactly how well a piece of yours converts compared to your other pieces; from these, you can glean key insights about which topics have the greatest potential to convert, and which calls-to-action generate the best responses.
Analysis and Action
Throughout this guide, I’ve shown you all the ways that Google Analytics can help you understand the effectiveness of your content marketing campaign, but there’s still one more step to take. Data and conclusions are important, and can make you feel like you’ve accomplished something, but they’re only meaningful if they lead to some kind of action. Unless you compensate for the weaknesses you’ve uncovered, boost the areas of strength you’ve measured, or otherwise adjust your campaign to see better results in the future. Everything you glean from Google Analytics, or any other measurement platform for that matter, should be boiled down to some kind of actionable takeaway. Focus on doing, rather than just evaluating, and you’ll end up with a higher performing campaign in no time.
No matter what industry you’re in or who your target demographics are, a powerful writing style will take your brand to the next level. For most modern online brands, this means using a combination of strong copy on your website and traditional ads as well as developing an ongoing content marketing strategy with a blog and peripheral content materials. As general advice goes, the better the content strategy, the happier your customers will be.
There are dozens of ways to make your content strategy better, including doing better research, knowing your demographics more intimately, and including more multimedia content in your strategy; these would all serve as interesting, separate topics. Today I want to focus on three critical writing skills that apply to everyone, in any niche: clarity, simplicity, and efficiency.
Clearer, Simpler, and Faster
Why these three specific qualities of writing? Let’s break this down.
The effectiveness of your content strategy is going to depend on dozens of interrelated factors. But what does it mean to be effective? It means communicating your message in a way that makes sense for your audience, and earning a positive ROI while doing so. Choosing the right audience and choosing the right message are both important, but they don’t have much to do with your writing style, or the literal process of writing.
When it comes to the actual writing process, much depends on the industry and format—for example, a BuzzFeed-style post in the news industry might require different techniques than menu descriptions for a local donut shop. Based on this fact and the eliminative process I used above, I can think of three main categories of factors that influence the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of your approach.
Writing clearer is about getting your message across as completely as possible. This means diminishing the opportunities for misinterpretation and leaving “no stone unturned” when it comes to the thoroughness of your work.
Writing simpler is about conciseness. With decreasing attention spans and increasing competition for content, the winning articles tend to be those who pack the most amount of punch in the smallest amount of space.
Writing faster is about producing more, higher quality work in a shorter amount of time and with a smaller degree of effort. Over time, this will result in fewer expenditures (both time and money) and earn you a higher ROI overall.
Tailoring Advice to Your Niche
The advice I dispense throughout this article will apply, in principle, to any business’s content marketing strategy in any niche. Taken at face value, they’ll be applicable to straightforward forms of content (such as blogs, whitepapers, and eBooks), and much of it can be applied to other forms of content, such as personal emails, social media posts, or even web copy.
However, it’s important for you to realize that every business and every niche is different, and that you may need to make some adjustments to make this work for your brand. For example, if your brand voice is casual and informal, striving for too much conciseness could make you come across as stuffy or unapproachable. Similarly, while clarity is always a good thing, the type of clarity you need may depend on your audience—for example, if your demographics are expressly familiar with your industry, you’ll need to explain fewer terms and get to your main points faster.
Clear writing is writing that communicates all of your intentions with as few ambiguities and as many details as possible. It’s not a new phenomenon; companies have been striving for better clarity for decades, and it’s always been a part of academia.
You could just strive to “write clearer,” but that isn’t a specific or actionable strategy. Instead, let’s take a look at specific ways you can increase the clarity of your writing.
Front-loading is the process of including more relevant information earlier on in your writing. It’s important for several reasons, and manifests in multiple different ways. For example, you can front-load an entire article by putting your most relevant information in the headline of your piece, or you can front-load a single sentence by leveraging the most useful and/or necessary information in your first few words. Why do this?
Attention. Your readers’ attention spans are short, valuable, and fragile. Many of them will only skim over your article, but almost all of them will catch the earliest information in your headline, intro, paragraphs, and sentences. Front-loading takes advantage of this, and gets your message to the greatest possible number of people.
Context. Writing is a process of introduction and clarification; just as this sentence illustrates, your job is to introduce a topic and then explain how or why it’s relevant. Introducing your main point earlier gives readers a grounding of context before they move on to your examples.
Memory. Introducing your valuable information earlier on gives you a chance to strengthen the overall memorability of your message, especially if you repeat that message tastefully in the rest of your work.
The most important opportunities for front-loading exist in your headlines, sub-headers, and topic sentences.
The organization of your article is also necessary to communicate your points clearly. Again, there are a number of reasons for this.
A casual reader or skimmer will be able to browse the article from a distance and pick out precisely the information he/she needs with minimal effort. In-depth readers will appreciate the logical flow of one idea to the next. During the writing process, it can even help you flesh out some of your most important ideas. Take a look at how the simple topic breakdown of the Wikipedia page for the Beatles immediately makes the long, complex page more decipherable and approachable:
This should be your goal, though you don’t need to have a strict table of contents like this. Throughout your article, you’ll want to hit on the main points of organization quality:
Logical transitions. Don’t include points randomly, and don’t use non-sequiturs to jump from one topic to another. Even a casual reader should be able to identify why your sections exist as they do, and feel comfortable shifting from one to the other.
Deliberate order. If you can rearrange the list of sub-topics you present in your article, you’ve probably done something wrong. There should be a meaningful and deliberate order to your sub-sections, even if that just means including your most valuable points at the end of the article.
Framing. Your introduction and conclusion are the most powerful parts of your article; use them wisely.
This should be one of the first things you accomplish for your article, since you can do it during the outline process and it basically dictates everything else in your piece.
The formatting of your article can also lend some serious clarity to your piece overall. Though some elements of formatting and organization are somewhat interchangeable, there is a truly significant distinction; organization refers to your choice and order of broad topics, while formatting refers to how you present those topics in a visual format.
For example, breaking up your content into paragraphs of related, short sentences is far better than leaving your audience exhausted with long, rambling blocks of text. Similarly, bulleted and numbered lists offer concise, punctuated items that represent or verify your arguments, and using bold and italics can help you make certain elements of your sentences stand out.
Formatting serves two important functions; it gives skimmers a chance to get the gist of your article, and gives other readers a “recap” that helps them return to and better understand a given section. With this in mind, your biggest job in formatting is making sure you select the best parts of your content to emphasize.
Even topics that offer well-organized subtopics and decent formatting can fall victim to ambiguity if you don’t offer enough specific information to your readers. “Specific” here can mean a few different things, so I’ll explore them.
First, specific means deliberate. Your word choices have a powerful effect on how your content is interpreted, so be choosy and only use the words that communicate your ideas best. A perfect example of this is the difference between passive voice, which uses indirect references, and active voice, which uses direct references:
Notice how all the passive phrases sound clunky and awkward, and how most of them make you think, if even for an extra second, to fully understand the phrase. The active phrase counterparts are much more straightforward and accessible.
Second, specific means precise. Don’t use vague words or generalities when you can substitute highly targeted words and phrases for them. For example, don’t say “a lot of companies” when you could substitute something like “80 percent of companies.” Even if you don’t have access to this data, you can use more specific terms like “the majority of companies I’ve worked with” or “most B2B companies.” Leave no room for misinterpretation.
The human mind is programmed for abstract thought; it’s easier for us to think in metaphors, illustrations, comparisons, and ideas than it is to think in words and numbers. While improving the specificity of your writing is important, it only appeals to the “words and numbers” part of the brain. If you want to make your ideas as clear as possible, you need to appeal to that intuitive, abstract part as well.
The best way to do this is with illustrations. You can take this literally and include things like charts and diagrams in the body of your work, but don’t underestimate the value of a good metaphor. For example, Einstein’s theory of general relativity is mathematically complex and almost inaccessible to the average person, but as soon as you liken the curvature of spacetime in the presence of massive objects to a bowling ball warping a taut rubber sheet, it starts to make sense.
Don’t worry about the details here; your illustrations are not meant to be taken literally, nor are they going to be the only means your audience has of understanding your ideas. Instead, think of them as a complementary service, like condiments at a hot dog stand.
Next, we move onto simplicity. There’s significant overlap between clarity and simplicity, since the clearest writing is often simple by default. However, these are independent ideas, and if you want your content to be as effective as possible, you’ll need to simplify your message drastically.
This ad actually sacrifices some clarity by refusing to elaborate on the details of its intentions. Instead, a simple pairing of words is enough to convey the powerful idea behind this campaign—and that makes it all the more effective.
First, make sure your focus is in the right place. You should have a clear goal for your article, even if it’s a “general” topic, or one that wanders to several different areas. Do this: try and reduce your entire article to a single sentence, or a single point that you’re trying to make. If you can’t do it, your article might be too broad, or you might need to find a way to make an argument, rather than just blindly stating facts.
Once you have this, consider it your “keystone.” Theoretically, every word of your article should in some way point back to this keystone statement. Every sentence should either present, illustrate, or confirm a point that eventually leads back to your overall argument—if it doesn’t, it probably doesn’t need to be there.
You can also create “keystones” for each of your sub-sections, or even each of your paragraphs. Doing so will help you stay focused and avoid deviating from the most important parts of your content.
There are over one million words in the English language. If you’re spewing thoughts from the top of your head, chances are you’re not coming up with the best possible choices and combinations. You don’t have to agonize over every word in your article, but making even a handful of simple swaps can make your content simpler and more elegant.
For example, which is more appealing to you as a reader: “The CEO’s mistake was an especially bad one, and because he made it, there were a number of serious consequences for the company” or “The CEO’s egregious mistake was devastating for the company.” Most would select the latter as being simpler and more effective, partially due to using stronger descriptive words, and partially due to cutting out the fluff (which I’ll touch on momentarily). Don’t be afraid to consult a thesaurus, as long as you double check to ensure you’re using each new word appropriately.
With the knowledge that long-form content tends to attract more shares and links than their shot-form counterparts, many businesses have exhausted themselves trying to beef up every section of their content. However, you don’t need to do this—and you probably shouldn’t.
When you expand the individual sections of your article, your goal should be completing your point fully and efficiently. As soon as you’ve reached a definitive conclusion, it’s time to move on to the next section. This will prevent you from providing too many examples (yes, it is a thing), rambling for too long, or obscuring your original point with unnecessary additions.
There’s no easy way to tell when your section is complete, other than by judging your content compared to your original point. Have you given your readers everything they need to get your main takeaway? If so, leave it at that.
Cutting the Fluff
Everyone writes fluff, whether they realize it or not. It’s a natural human tendency; our word selection processes aren’t perfect, and even if they were, we’d still often write or speak too fast for our perfectionistic selection processes to keep up. As a result, we write filler words, filler sentences, and include unnecessary modifiers in our work.
These aren’t inherently damaging, since they aren’t detracting from your main point. However, they can obscure your main point by making it harder to find (a “diamond in the rough” effect), and if you include enough of them, they’ll bring the value per word of your content down, possibly reducing your readers’ perceptions of your content value overall.
This effect manifests in a handful of ways. Redundancy is one of the most common offenders (using synonyms or repeating your meaning in other words), and while it won’t kill your meaning, it will make your work seem sloppy and unpolished:
Other forms of “fluff” include meaningless modifiers like “a lot,” or “very,” and extended definitions of concepts that require only a concise description.
Again, we all write fluff, so it’s hard to simply stop writing it. Instead of avoiding it, let it come out naturally and try not to overthink it. Then, when your draft is finished, you can go back and edit your material. Look at your work on a sentence-by-sentence level and ask yourself, “is this a necessary phrase? Is this a necessary word?” You’ll find more fluff than you bargained for, but over time you’ll naturally become a more concise writer.
While clarity and simplicity are about making sure your writing is effective in delivering a message, efficiency is about making sure your writing is worth the effort you put into it. To put it bluntly, the less time you spend on a knockout piece, the more return on your investment (ROI) it’s going to yield.
The massive caveat to this is that your content must be high-quality. Never sacrifice the quality of your content to save time or money.
With that out of the way, there are general “efficiency” strategies you can use to make yourself a more productive person in general, or “hack” your mind to becoming more focused and more alert. For example, you can turn off your message notifications to zero in on your most important work.
I’m not going to get into these strategies. There are plenty of articles on the subject, including ones I’ve written (linked above). Instead, I want to focus on strategies that will exclusively help you become a better, more efficient writer—helping you produce more work in less time without sacrificing any of your quality.
Collecting a Team
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, good marketing is a team sport. If you have trouble coming up with ideas, get a few of your coworkers to chip in a few topic ideas. If you have lots of ideas, but can’t pick a good one, ask your coworkers for feedback. Fill your staff with other writers and marketers who know your demographics and know your brand—they’ll be able to help you come up with new directions and perfect your approaches. Even five minutes of someone’s time is often enough to help you break through a plateau you’ve encountered on your own.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to reach outside your company. Talk to peers, influencers, partners, and mentors within your industry and those who share similar content goals. Mingling like this will help you avoid “stale” ideas, and will give you enough inspiration to keep moving through even the toughest episodes of writer’s block.
Setting Up a Research Stream
Most content marketers will tell you that the vast majority of their work comes in the research and planning phase; once they’ve collected all the information they need to create a good post, the actual writing process is somewhat simple. Therefore, reducing the amount of time it takes to research will definitively reduce the total time to write any given article.
How can you do this without just decreasing the amount of research you do?
Create ongoing streams of research and habits that keep your reading list full and your mind topped off with potential ideas. For starters, sign up for a blog reader app like Feedly, and select publishers and industries that are relevant to your brand. You’ll get top headlines to read every morning, which you can turn into an ongoing research habit. Take notes on topics that interest you and set them aside if you want to develop them in the future; it only takes a few minutes per day, but soon you’ll end up with more ready-to-go research than you know what to do with.
You can also create research streams on social media, with your coworkers (see previous section), or in your company’s research department—the key is to start getting these topics and data automatically, so you can spare yourself the trouble of seeking it out manually.
Always Be Writing
Don’t think of writing as something you sit down to do for X number of hours, to stop only once the article is complete. Instead, try adapting your mind to write on a constant basis. Think through your spoken sentences as if you were drafting them, self-editing for clarity and simplicity, and when you’re stuck in traffic, or you’re out for a walk, let your mind brainstorm about possible topics.
This open brainstorming will help you find better ways of communicating, and will help you explore new ideas at a leisurely pace, rather than trying to forcefully extract them all at once in a single session. Plus, you’ll get the perks of better communication in other areas of your life.
Developing a Routine
While writing is an area where new experiences and new perspectives can introduce new ideas and angles to your work, it also pays to develop a routine. Every day, you should start by reviewing some news and research, and every time you start a new article, you should have a repeatable process for how to do so effectively. This won’t happen all at once; you’ll encounter strategies that consistently work and strategies that consistently fail. Only by adjusting them and building a better overall process will you be able to consistently produce better material at a faster pace.
The Assembly Line
This is one example of a routine, or repeatable process you can use to write faster. It doesn’t work for everybody, nor is it guaranteed to help you write faster or better, but it does make the process more streamlined when you start managing lots of pieces at once.
There are many stages of the content development process; research, outlining, drafting, polishing, publishing, and syndicating. Rather than following this sequence for every available piece, try to operate as an assembly line for greater efficiency; do all the research for all your posts, then all the outlining, then all the drafting, and so on. You could even delegate certain stages of this process to individuals of your team who excel at them, divvying up the process like a real assembly line.
Bringing It All Together
If you start implementing all (or most) of the strategies I’ve covered in this guide, I guarantee your writing will become clearer, simpler, and faster—I just can’t guarantee that it will come all at once. Like with the development of any skill, writing improvement takes time, and you’ll run into some obstacles along the way. Try to think of these recommendations as a loose guide for development, rather than a rigid checklist or dogmatic list of rules. Through trial and error, you’ll learn to apply them to your niche and your own personal style in a way that maximizes your efficiency, and at the end of it, you’ll walk away with more powerful pieces of content in every form you publish.